May 172017
 
 May 17, 2017  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Arrest of Gavrilo Princip, the man who shoot Franz Ferdinand June 28 1914

 

Britain’s Labour Party Unveils ‘Radical’ Election Manifesto (AFP)
UK Media Trying Incredibly Hard To Keep Corbyn Out Of Number 10 (Can.)
The American Dystopia Didn’t Begin With Trump (MW)
Democratic Party Image Dips, GOP Ratings Stable (Gallup)
Chelsea Manning Set For Release After 7 Years In Prison (AP)
Hong Kong Rejects Asylum for Snowden Helpers (HRW)
The Everything Bubble: Stocks, Real Estate & Bond Implosion (Mike Maloney)
New Theory Behind Stalled Economy: Retirees Are Hoarding Too Much Cash (ZH)
Australia Needs Housing Slowdown for Stability on AAA – S&P (BBG)
Can China Afford Its Belt and Road? (Balding)
Erdogan’s Bodyguards Beat Up US Protestors in DC After He Met With Trump (Qz)
EU Warns Turkey After It Violates Greek Airspace 141 Times In One Day (EuAct)
Abe Divides Japan With Plan to Change Pacifist Constitution (BBG)
NATO Builds Infrastructure for Permanent Presence Near Russia’s Borders (SCF)
Eastern Europe Turns Its Back On Single Market (Pol.)
Germany and Italy Want EU To Halt Migrants In Libya (EuO)

 

 

Looking at the incredible mess built up by the likes of Trump and Hillary, Farge and Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Marine Le Pen, Jeremy Corbyn looks better all the time. He’s an actual person, and he sticks to his guns.

Maybe what goes against him most is that people in this day and age don’t recognize him as a politician anymore; politicians are supposed to stab backs, tell lies and conspire against anyone threatening their shot at power.

Is there anyone who would argue that the world would have been a worse place with Bernie Sanders in the White House and Jeremy Corbyn at no. 10?

As the left has moved, and become, right, we need a left just for balance in our societies. Nothing to do with if you are a socialist or not, just balance.

Britain’s Labour Party Unveils ‘Radical’ Election Manifesto (AFP)

Britain’s opposition Labour Party pledged to raise taxes on the well-off, renationalise key industries and end austerity in its manifesto on Tuesday, presenting voters with their starkest choice in decades in next month’s election. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the programme “radical and responsible”, saying the country had been run “for the rich, the elite and the vested interests” in seven years of Conservative government. “It will change our country,” he will say in his speech at the presentation of the manifesto in Bradford in northwest England, according to extracts released by the party’s press office. “It will lead us through Brexit while putting the preservation of jobs first,” he said. The manifesto is expected to include a tax increase from 40% to 45% for salaries of between ££80,000 (€94,000, $103,000) and ££150,0000 a year, according to The Times and The Daily Telegraph.

The current 40% tax rate applies to people earning between ££31,500 and ££150,000. There would also be a new top rate of income tax of 50%, the reports said. Labour has said the rise would fund increased investment in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) and would only affect 5% of earners. The Guardian reported that the party was also planning a levy on businesses with staff earning large salaries, set at 2.5% on those earning over ££330,000 and 5.0% on those earning more than ££500,000. Labour will also promise to renationalise the railways, the Royal Mail postal service and water companies, according to various reports. Labour has also promised it will increase corporation tax to 26% by 2022 and impose a “Robin Hood tax” on financial transactions. “It’s a programme that will reverse our national priorities to put the interests of the many first,” Corbyn is expected to say. “This is a programme of hope. The Tory campaign, by contrast, is built on one word: fear.”

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Three weeks before the elections, Corbyn is still reported to lose in a landslide. Will Britain wake up in time? Theresa May is a sure bet for deterioration.

UK Media Trying Incredibly Hard To Keep Corbyn Out Of Number 10 (Can.)

An academic investigation has caught the UK media trying incredibly hard to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of Number 10. The mainstream TV and newspaper media are pushing the agenda of the Conservative Party within their coverage, according to an investigation from Loughborough University. The Conservatives are the “most frequently reported” and “most extensively quoted” party, while issues pushed by Labour are “marginalised”, say the report’s authors. In newspapers, for example, the Conservatives received by far the most direct quotation, exceeding Labour by 45%. One of the most striking findings is how much non-political personality pervades the entire media’s election coverage. Last week, Theresa May made a policy-free appearance on The One Show with her husband Philip May. The BBC hosted the personality-driven chat, despite the sitting Prime Minister refusing to debate her record on TV.

Then, according to the content analysis, the broader media amplified the appearance and sidelined the real issues. And this is precisely the aim of a Conservative Party opting for cosy sofa chats over serious policy debate. The sheer weight of reporting on the sanitised family affair propelled the Conservative leader’s husband into the fifth most covered political figure during the study’s time frame. He received nearly double the coverage of the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, who leads a party controlling 56 out of the 59 Scottish seats. The Conservative leader’s husband, a family figure irrelevant to the election, also received nearly as much coverage as Labour’s Shadow Chancellor. John McDonnell was the fourth most covered political figure, reported on in 6.1% of all the election news items analysed. Theresa May was easily the most prominent, featuring in 32.4% – over a third of all news items analysed. Corbyn received much less coverage across TV and newspaper media, appearing in 21.4%.

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And it won’t end there. Someone should be able to write it up better than this though.

The American Dystopia Didn’t Begin With Trump (MW)

Dystopia is here. It’s not just the “imagined place” of the dictionary definition or a future state of dystopian novels. It is very real and right now, at least for those of us trying to follow national politics. And it’s not just Donald Trump. It’s Barack Obama, it’s Ted Cruz, it’s the New York Times, it’s Breitbart News. It is an alternate universe detached from the world we live in but intruding into it in painful and dangerous ways. It is a media narrative of political conspirators colluding with a dictatorial archenemy, of an intemperate and delusional leader overturning the institutions of democracy, of a “deep-state” resistance to constitutional authority. It is a dystopia of rampant hypocrisy, where obstructing legislation, supporting a law-enforcement official who strays beyond the limits of his authority, or boycotting a president’s appointments is evil and undemocratic until it’s your party that wants to do it.

Two dystopian classics have shot back to the top of best-seller lists because the media suggest the authoritarian surveillance societies they portray have arrived. The 1948 novel “1984” and the 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” are touted as descriptions of where we are headed under Trump. While the author of “Handmaid,” Margaret Atwood, and the cast of the Hulu miniseries based on it see a Trump administration as the realization of the misogyny depicted in the novel, it’s obvious the U.S. is not about to become a Puritanical theocracy like that in the book. Critics on both the left and the right dispute the media meme that “Handmaid” is a depiction of the Trump era. Irish feminist Angela Nagle writes in the left-wing Jacobin magazine that it is neoliberal market forces that are oppressing women, not an imaginary theocratic state.

“The real-world dystopia for the majority of women in the age of Trump is not that they are being forced to have children by a repressive traditionalist state,” she wrote last week, “but that they’re being compelled not to by far more insidious forces, and those that do are financially and socially punished at every turn.” We are ruled by myths, she continues, but not those in the miniseries. “The mythologies of our age in the West are not enforced by repressive theocratic regimes,” Nagle says, “but by the market command to be free, to be creative, to be flexible, to love what you do for even the most uninspiring of jobs.”

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They’re all still well ahead of François Hollande. But imagine what a viable third party could do. Better let that be Bernie.

Democratic Party Image Dips, GOP Ratings Stable (Gallup)

Americans’ opinions of the two major political parties are now similar after the Democratic Party’s ratings slipped to 40% – from 45% last November – while the Republican Party’s image is essentially unchanged at 39%. The latest update on the party’s images is based on a May 3-7 Gallup poll, which asked Americans whether they have a favorable or an unfavorable opinion of each party. Throughout last year’s contentious presidential election campaign, U.S. adults rated neither party highly. In fact, more rated each party unfavorably than favorably. But Democrats maintained a slight edge in favorable ratings, including 45% to 40% in Gallup’s prior measurement, conducted last November after Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election.

So far, Trump’s unpopularity as president has done little to erode Americans’ views of the GOP, perhaps because they were already quite negative. However, Americans are now less positive toward the Democratic Party than they were last fall. The decline in Democratic Party favorability is mostly a result of lower ratings from self-identified Democrats. In November, 83% of Democrats had a positive opinion of the Democratic Party; now, 77% do. Independents are also slightly less positive toward the Democratic Party, while Republicans’ negative views of the opposing party are steady.

[..]Americans are quite negative toward both of the major political parties at this time. Trump’s unpopularity and the GOP’s challenges in governing a divided nation have done little to weaken the party’s poor image further. But those same factors have also done little to cast the opposing party, the Democrats, in a more favorable light. If anything, the Democratic Party’s positioning appears weakened, largely because its own supporters now hold a less positive view of the party. That could indicate Democrats are frustrated with the party’s minority status in Washington. Not since 2003 through 2006 have Democrats failed to control the presidency, House of Representatives or Senate. Prior to that, Democrats had control of either Congress or the presidency for more than 50 years.

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Bless you.

Chelsea Manning Set For Release After 7 Years In Prison (AP)

Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier convicted of giving classified government materials to WikiLeaks, is due to be released from a Kansas military prison on Wednesday after serving seven years of her 35-year sentence. President Barack Obama granted Manning clemency in his final days in office in January. Though she’s set to be released from Fort Leavenworth, Manning’s lawyers and the Army have refused to say when and how she’ll be freed due to potential security concerns. Manning, who was known as Bradley Manning before transitioning in prison, was convicted in 2013 of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. She was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.

The Crescent, Oklahoma, native tweeted after being granted clemency that she plans to move to Maryland. Neither she nor her attorneys explained why, but she has an aunt who lives there. Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq, has acknowledged leaking the materials, which included battlefield video. She said she wanted to expose what she considered to be the U.S. military’s disregard of the effects of war on civilians and that she released information that she didn’t believe would harm the U.S. Critics said the leaks laid bare some of the nation’s most-sensitive secrets and endangered information sources, prompting the State Department to help some of those people move to protect their safety. Several ambassadors were recalled, expelled or reassigned because of embarrassing disclosures.

Manning, who was arrested in 2010, filed a transgender rights lawsuit in prison and attempted suicide twice last year, according to her lawyers. Obama’s decision to commute Manning’s sentence to about seven years, including the time she spent locked up before being convicted, drew strong criticism from members of Congress and others, with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan calling the move “just outrageous.” In a statement last week — her first public comments since Obama intervened — Manning thanked that former president and said that letters of support from veterans and fellow transgender people inspired her “to work toward making life better for others.” “For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea,” she said.

“I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world. Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine.” Her attorneys have said Manning was subjected to violence in prison and argued the military mistreated her by requiring her to serve her sentence in an all-male prison, restricting her physical and mental health care and not allowing her to keep a feminine haircut. The Army said Tuesday that Manning would remain on active duty in a special, unpaid status that will legally entitle her to military medical care, along with commissary privileges. An Army spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson, said Manning will be on “excess leave” while her court-martial conviction is under appellate review.

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Seems like every country punishes its best and bravest.

Hong Kong Rejects Asylum for Snowden Helpers (HRW)

Seven people who sheltered the whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013 are at risk of return to torture and persecution at home, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 11, 2017, the Hong Kong Immigration Department rejected their asylum claim; their lawyers are in the process of appealing the decision and pursuing a separate case for entry and asylum in Canada, where sponsors are ready to assist them. “Those who helped Edward Snowden in Hong Kong when he was seeking asylum now find themselves at dire risk if sent back to their countries,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Canada has the opportunity to a prevent a terrible outcome and should act immediately.”

The asylum-seekers include two men and a woman from Sri Lanka, and a woman from the Philippines, along with their three children who were born in Hong Kong and are stateless. The adults allege that they suffered torture and persecution in their home countries, and have been pursued by powerful people or officials who have tracked or threatened them. Their asylum lawyer, Robert Tibbo, brought Snowden, another client, to their homes in 2013 after he revealed he had disclosed classified information to the press. The families each freely allowed Snowden to stay with them for a short time after his disclosures became public but before his arrest was sought.

Neither the asylum-seekers nor their lawyer revealed their role in Snowden’s journey. However, journalists independently discovered their identities shortly before the release of an Oliver Stone movie about Snowden that shows him being hidden among asylum-seekers in Hong Kong. At that point, the asylum-seekers went public in an effort to have some control over how they were portrayed in the media.

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The Automatic Earth doesn’t promote any specific kind of investments, but Mike is a good friend of ours, and he’s right here.

The Everything Bubble: Stocks, Real Estate & Bond Implosion (Mike Maloney)

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No, they’re not.

New Theory Behind Stalled Economy: Retirees Are Hoarding Too Much Cash (ZH)

[..] we were somewhat shocked to come across a report from money manager United Income which effectively argues that American retirees are saving too much money rather than too little. To summarize the thesis, United Income argues that retirees become more conservative as they grow older which causes them to save more and allocate less to equities…which is, of course, a somewhat self-serving conclusion but never mind that.

“Innovations in medicine and technology have extended human life by over 30 years since 1900. This has helped to double the amount of time the average adult now spends in retirement compared to several decades ago. But, the benefits of longer lives and retirement may be limited if older households curb their consumption or investment in preventive health measures because they are overly pessimistic about their future financial health. Overly negative viewpoints toward the future may also create self-fulfilling economic problems if it leads to an overly aggressive fixed-income portfolio.”

Unfortunately, when combined with the fact that “Median Net Wealth” is actually shrinking, it’s easy to deduce that while the majority of American retirees are actually spending their retirement income (and then some), there is a group of super wealthy old folks who simply can’t spend enough money to offset annual investment income growth….which speaks more to the growing wealth gap than to some economic fear that is causing retirees to hoard cash. In this context, it’s not too difficult to understand why aggregate YoY spending trends collapse as old folks get older. The most wealthy retirees can only find so many ways to burn their massive nest eggs which means that, at least for these folks, YoY spending doesn’t grow but retirement balances do…while the overwhelming majority of people simply run out of cash and have to cut every corner possible to survive….

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Perfect irony.

Australia Needs Housing Slowdown for Stability on AAA – S&P (BBG)

Australia’s prized AAA rating will only rest on a firm footing once there’s a “meaningful moderation” in housing and credit, S&P Global Ratings said as it maintained a negative outlook on the country’s sovereign score. The country’s rating was affirmed by the credit assessor after the latest federal government budget projected a return to surplus by 2021, although S&P noted that revenue could disappoint and lawmakers may struggle to implement fiscal repair policies. It also highlighted risks stemming from Australia’s high level of external indebtedness. S&P has maintained a negative outlook on the country since last July when it issued a warning in the wake of a knife-edge federal election.

“The ratings could stabilize if we were to see a significant and sustained improvement in the medium-term budget outlook, leading to a return to a general government surplus,” S&P said in a statement Wednesday. “A stabilization of the ratings would also require a meaningful moderation of the credit and house price boom.” Home prices in Sydney and Melbourne have surged in the wake of unprecedented interest-rate cuts by the Reserve Bank of Australia as the country navigates its way through the aftermath of a mining boom. Regulators have progressively tightened lending restrictions amid concerns about financial stability.

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Debt and Road.

Can China Afford Its Belt and Road? (Balding)

China’s just-completed conference touting its Belt and Road initiative certainly looked like a triumph, with Russian President Vladimir Putin playing the piano and Chinese leaders announcing a string of potential deals and massive financial pledges. Underneath all the heady talk about China positioning itself at the heart of a new global order, though, lies in uncomfortable question: Can it afford to do so? Such doubts might seem spurious, given the numbers being tossed around. China claims nearly $900 billion worth of deals are already underway, with estimates of future spending ranging from $4 trillion to $8 trillion, depending on which Chinese government agency is doing the talking. At the conference itself, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged another $78 billion for the effort, which envisions building infrastructure to link China to Europe through Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

From no other country in the world would such pledges be remotely plausible. Yet even for China, they’ll be difficult to fulfill without clashing with the country’s other objectives. The first question is what currency to use for all this lending. Denominating loans in renminbi would accelerate China’s stated goal of internationalizing its currency. But it would also force officials to tolerate higher levels of offshore renminbi trading and international price-setting. So far, they’ve shown little appetite for either. Additionally, countries along the Belt-and-Road route would need to run trade surpluses with China in order to generate the currency needed to repay such loans. In fact, as Bloomberg Intelligence economist Tom Orlik has noted, China ran a $250 billion surplus with Belt-and-Road countries in 2016.

It will be mathematically impossible for Sri Lanka and Pakistan to repay big yuan-denominated loans when they’re running trade deficits with China close to $2 billion and $9 billion, respectively. Financing projects in dollars is no panacea either. Unless China conducts U.S. dollar bond offerings to fund these investments, it’ll have to tap its official foreign-exchange reserves. Those now hover around $3 trillion. That sounds like a lot. But outside estimates suggest anywhere from a few hundred billion to nearly $1 trillion of that money is illiquid. China needs nearly $900 billion to cover short-term external debt and another $400 to $800 billion to cover imports for three to six months. Pouring additional billions into Central Asian infrastructure projects would only tie up money China needs to defend the yuan.

And, borrowers would need to run significant dollar surpluses in order to repay dollar-denominated loans. Obviously, not every country can do so, or undervalue its currency to try and build up a surplus. Beyond the specific mechanisms, it’s unclear whether China has the financial capacity to lend at these levels to borrowers of dubious creditworthiness. As French bank Natixis S.A. has noted, in order to finance $5 trillion in projects, China “would need to see growth rates of around 50% in cross-border lending.” This would wreak havoc on Chinese creditworthiness and raise external debt from a “very comfortable” level (around 12% of GDP) to “more than 50%” if China can’t bring in other lenders.

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Violence in a myriad forms is being normalized one step at a time.

Erdogan’s Bodyguards Beat Up US Protestors in DC After He Met With Trump (Qz)

“The relations between Turkey and the United States have been erected upon common democratic values and common interests.” That’s what Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a White House press conference with US president Donald Trump on Tuesday (May 16). But shortly after the event, Erdogan’s bodyguards proceeded to beat and kick people outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington DC. The altercation was captured on camera, and resulted in nine people being hurt, Voice of America said.

A photojournalist at the site said it seemed to be a pro-Turkey gathering at first, while some witnesses said the group outside the residence included a person carrying a flag of a Kurdish party in Syria allied with a militia the US plans to aid, over Turkey’s objections. [..] It’s not the first time Erdogan’s security has roughed up protesters on American soil. In 2016, the Washington Post reported clashes between protesters and the Turkish leader’s security detail. And in 2014, in New York, Turkish security threatened and pushed around journalists working for a newspaper perceived to be critical of Erdogan.

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This has been going on for years. And only know Brussels peeps.

EU Warns Turkey After It Violates Greek Airspace 141 Times In One Day (EuAct)

Turkish aeroplanes and helicopters illegally entered Greece’s airspace 141 times yesterday (15 May), the Hellenic National Defence General Staff reported. According to Greek press reports, 20 Turkish F-16, 5 CN-235 maritime surveillance aircraft and 19 helicopters entered the Athens flight information region (FIR) without submitting a flight plan. In all cases, Turkish aircraft were identified and intercepted by Greek fighters, while in nine cases the interception process resulted in near combat situations. In addition, two Turkish missile boats entered Greek territorial waters off the southeast Aegean island of Agathonisi. The vessels, which were taking part in a maritime exercise code-named Denizkurdu (Seawolf), stayed in Greek territorial waters for about 20 minutes.

As Kathimerini journal reported, last month Agathonisi was described as a “Turkish island” by Turkey’s Minister of European Union Affairs Omer Celik. While the EU and the international community recognise the sovereignty of Greece over the Greek Aegean islands, Turkey has a list of issues regarding the delimitation of territorial waters, national airspace, exclusive zones, etc. Ankara also claims “grey zones” of undetermined sovereignty over a number of small islets, most notably the islets of Imia/Kardak. The serious incidents occurred just a few hours after the meeting of Greek premier Alexis Tsipras with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Beijing. The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a strong communique saying that the incident “constitutes a flagrant violation of international law”.

“It is clear that there are forces in Turkey that do not want understanding and good neighbourly relations between the two countries,” the Greek ministry added. In the meantime, tensions between Ankara and Berlin also escalated. The German government is exploring the possibility of moving its troops out of Turkey’s Incirlik air base, which is crucial for the fight against ISIS, after a second German parliamentary delegation was prevented from visiting the Incirlik facility. German news agency dpa quoted Wolfgang Hellmich, the chairman of the Bundestag Defense Committee, as saying “we’re not going to be blackmailed” by the Ankara government.

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Another form of violence normalized. Abe is the proverbial nationalist.

Abe Divides Japan With Plan to Change Pacifist Constitution (BBG)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s sudden rush to change the pacifist constitution that has defined Japan’s security policy since World War II risks eroding his popularity before an election due by the end of next year. This month, Abe proposed an amendment to recognize the existence of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces while maintaining Article 9, which renounces the right to war and prohibits land, sea and air forces. He wants the change to take effect by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics. Rewriting the constitution has been a longstanding goal of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, whose original members – including Abe’s grandfather, who was a prime minister – saw the document as a U.S. imposition that humiliated Japan after World War II.

For Abe, the timing appears opportune: not only are tensions high over North Korea, but his opponents are weak. Yet it also carries risks. The public is divided on changing the constitution, and even some members of his own party don’t support it. The issue could galvanize the opposition and potentially hurt Abe’s chances of becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. “It’s going to be very difficult for him to pull this off,” said Gerald Curtis, an emeritus professor of political science at Columbia University who is currently in Tokyo. “It will eat away at his support. Whether it eats away enough to threaten his third term – that’s unlikely.”

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Insanity rules.

NATO Builds Infrastructure for Permanent Presence Near Russia’s Borders (SCF)

A group of about 50 combat engineers based at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown were deployed to Latvia on April 29 as part of Operation Reassurance. The mission is to build a town for 500 soldiers. According to commanding officer Lt.-Col. Chris Cotton, the installation will have «everything you would expect in a small town, from its kitchen to its quarters, its electrical distribution system, water distribution system, internet, gym facilities that would allow people to survive over the long term in Latvia». Obviously, this is an element of vast infrastructure to provide for a long-term commitment. In early April, a US-led battle group of 1,350 soldiers for NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Eastern Europe arrived at its base near Orzysz in northeastern Poland.

It took place just a few days after a NATO-Russia Council meeting took place on March 30. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the talks with Moscow «frank» and «constructive». Then the usual song and dance followed under the slogan of Russian threat. British RAF fighters are scheduled to be stationed to Romania this May. In March the first of 800 UK troops arrived in Estonia supported by around 300 armed vehicles. Along with French and Danish forces they’ll be stationed there on what NATO leadership calls «rotational basis». In January, German and Belgian forces arrived in Lithuania near the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The UK leads the Estonia Battlegroup while other NATO members are deploying forces to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland as part of the bloc’s Enhanced Forward Presence battalion.

All in all, 4,000 NATO troops with tanks, armored vehicles, air support, and high-tech intelligence centers deployed to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. In accordance with the fiscal year 2017 European Reassurance Initiative budget proposal, the US Army is reopening or creating five equipment-storage sites in the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and two locations in Germany. Last September, the service began to assemble more Army Prepositioned Stocks (APS) for permanent storage in Europe. Those stocks will be sufficient for another armored brigade to fall in on. The rotating brigade will bring its own equipment. The move will add hundreds of the Army’s most advanced weapons systems to beef up the US European Command’s combat capability. It will also free up an entire brigade’s worth of weapons currently being used by US forces training on the continent to enable more American troops to be rushed in on short notice.

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The EU is an instrument for German, Dutch, French power and profits.

Eastern Europe Turns Its Back On Single Market (Pol.)

The EU’s newest members are the fiercest opponents of its single market. As with so many of the toughest fights in Brussels, it all boils down to farmers and food. Central Europeans say big Western European landowners and multinational supermarkets are wiping out their farmers and shopkeepers. Protecting smallholders from powerful investors like banks has leapt to the top of the political agenda. Eastern European governments have rolled out a complex web of new laws to stop foreigners buying out swaths of ultra-cheap farmland. The European Commission regards this new legislation in the former communist countries as an existential threat to the EU’s free flow of goods, people and capital — the single market, in short — and struck back with infringement cases intended to preserve its sanctity.

In Bulgaria, for example, the European Commission launched an infringement proceeding last year over a law that investors should be resident for more than five years before they can buy farmland. In Romania, Brussels objected this year to rules that supermarkets should source 51 percent of fresh produce from local suppliers. There has been no decision on either case. It is in Poland, the regional heavyweight, that the battle over respect for the single market is fought the hardest. Brussels has already ordered the authorities to halt a tax on the retail sector on the grounds it grants a selective advantage to small, local shops with a low turnover over big foreign-owned supermarkets. All eyes are now focusing on how the European Commission will react to a growing chorus of complaints in Poland over the rights of foreigners to buy farmland.

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The ‘safe zones’ notion in northern Libya blew up in their faces. So now they’re moving the empty idea to the south. Meanwhile, people keep drowning, and that serves Europe’s purposes.

Germany and Italy Want EU To Halt Migrants In Libya (EuO)

Italy and Germany are reportedly seeking an EU mission to stabilise Libya’s 5,000km southern border with neighbouring countries and curb migration. German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported on Sunday (14 May) that the German interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, and his Italian counterpart, Marco Minniti, want the mission set up between Libya and Niger. The ministers sent a joint-letter last week to the European Commission, saying that an EU mission at the border between the two nations was needed “as soon as possible.” “The first months of this year have shown that our efforts up to this point have been insufficient. We must prevent hundreds of thousands of people who are in the hands of smugglers from risking their lives in Libya and the Mediterranean,” the letter states.

The letter, also seen by the French news agency AFP, says greater development and local support is needed for people living along the border. It also calls for “technical and financial support” to Libyan authorities. Abdulsalam Kajman, the vice president of the UN and EU-backed government seated in Tripoli, had also told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper on Sunday that Libya was willing to launch patrols with the help of other countries. “If we don’t resolve southern Libya’s problems, we will not resolve the migrant issue,” he said. Kajman added that Italy was prepared to help train a new patrol guard for the task. The plans are part of a broader effort to prevent people from leaving Libya on boats towards the EU and crack down on migrant smugglers. The exodus from the coast has increased by over 44% – when compared to the same period last year – with some 45,000 people having disembarked between January and mid-May so far.

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May 062017
 
 May 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Edouard Boubat Paris 1950

 

Think Like a Surfer in the Largest Stock Market Bubble Since 1983 (Dent)
US Student, Auto Loans Hit New All Time High Of $2.6 Trillion (ZH)
China’s War on Debt: Stocks Drop, Bond Yields Shoot Up and Defaults Rise (WSJ)
This Is Not a Bill (Jim Kunstler)
Review of Steve Keen’s Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (R.)
France and Greece Heavily Disadvantaged by Euro as Germany Benefits (WE)
How the Eurozone Damaged French Politics – And The Election (Nation)
Macron Team Blasts ‘Massive Hacking Attack’ (R.)
Macron Personifies The Very Europe Whose Failure Feeds Le Pen (Zizek)
The English Language Is Losing Importance In Europe – Juncker (G.)
Germany Says No Debt Relief Being Prepared For Greece (R.)
The Forgotten History of Cinco de Mayo (IC)
Rescuers Pick Up 560 Migrants Off Libyan Coast On Thursday (R.)

 

 

Disasters as opportunities.

Think Like a Surfer in the Largest Stock Market Bubble Since 1983 (Dent)

I took up surfing in my early 30s. It didn’t last long. But I learned a tremendous amount from the experience (least of which is that I suck at surfing). Well, it’s time to think like a surfer. Your sole focus is to catch the wave. The best surfers can see the waves building, just like we can in the markets, but they only care about where the biggest, best waves will crash. That’s where you get the ride. And if you catch the biggest wave in the right place, you get the ride of a lifetime. Look at this fourth and largest wave building in the stock market. It’s the wave of a lifetime for investors, and it’s rolling onto our shores right about now… Remember, all the action comes when the wave crashes, not as it’s building. As the swell grows around you, you can go with the flow and harness the energy of the wave with little effort.

That’s when you become one with the universe, sitting there on your board, surrounded by dark water, rolling up and down as the power builds beneath you. That’s why surfers get addicted. Then, at the perfect moment, all the wave’s pent up energy releases in a roaring spray of water and power. That’s where we want YOU to be when the greatest market wave of your lifetime comes crashing to shore! That’s when the greatest profits come. That’s when the greatest innovations spring up. The smartest people (I include surfers in this group) and the greatest innovators understand this. They don’t look at a good economy as the best opportunity for success. Seeds of radical innovation only grow in the most challenging conditions.

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Private debt is far more dangerous than public debt.

US Student, Auto Loans Hit New All Time High Of $2.6 Trillion (ZH)

One month after we, and every other financial media, reported that US credit card debt had risen back over $1 trillion for the first time since January 2017, the Fed demonstrated just how meaningless such reports are when in its latest consumer credit report it revised the total stock of revolving debt back under $1 trillion for the month of March, while boosting December’s amount to $1,000.1 billion, meaning that all those “$1 trillion in credit card” debt headlines were about 4 months late. Fed screwing around with the financial reporters aside, the latest monthly report showed that total consumer credit rose by $16.4 billion, more than the $14 billion expected, an increase which was offset by a downward revision to the February consumer credit number from $15.2 billion to $13.8 billion. Revolving credit accounted for $2 billion of the increase with the rest, or $14.4 billion, in the form of auto and student loans.

And speaking of student and auto loans, the Fed also released its latest quarterly estimate for the two series as of March 31, and as one would expect, the numbers rose to new all time highs, and as of the end of the first quarter, US consumers owed $1.44 trillion in student loans, an increase of $32 billion for the quarter and $80 billion for the year, as well as $1.12 trillion in auto loans, an increase of $8 billion Q/Q and $73 billion Q/Q. This means that as of March 31, Americans owed two and a half times as much on their auto and student loans, as on their credit cards, a new all time high.

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“..since these products aren’t logged as loans or other assets on their balance sheets, banks have to set aside little or nothing for potential losses associated with them..”

China’s War on Debt: Stocks Drop, Bond Yields Shoot Up and Defaults Rise (WSJ)

A wave of regulations aimed at cutting risk in China’s financial system is rippling through the country’s markets and sending banks and companies scrambling for funds. During the past month, Chinese shares have fallen nearly 5%, draining almost half a trillion dollars out of the country’s markets. Bond yields have shot up to their highest levels in two years, and bond defaults hover at record levels. The uncertainty has also weighed on metals and commodity prices, already hurt by doubts around China’s growth momentum. The price of iron ore plunged 8% on Thursday, the daily trading limit. Investors blame the volatility on a host of measures Chinese authorities have rolled out to curb runaway debt levels, from raising the cost of short-term funds to measures that are prompting banks to unwind hidden loans and securities.

A particular target is high-risk, high-yielding investment products that banks have used to boost returns, but that regulators say may conceal dangerous amounts of risky lending. Regulators are responding to prodding from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who issued a call for financial stability ahead of a major power reshuffle later this year, and just last week warned finance officials not to miss “a single risk” or “hidden danger.” The market turbulence will test Beijing’s resolve in tackling China’s snowballing debt, especially if it looks like regulators’ crackdown is jeopardizing short-term growth. If they can withstand the short-term squeeze and continue to push it through, the effort will help put China’s economy on a sounder footing longer-term. Banks—especially small and midsize lenders—sell the risky investment products to Chinese savers, then lend the funds to outside asset managers who invest them in bonds, stocks and loans.

The lenders make money from the difference between what they pay their investment clients and what they get from the outside managers. But since these products aren’t logged as loans or other assets on their balance sheets, banks have to set aside little or nothing for potential losses associated with them. That leaves banks more exposed to risk and shows their financial position as stronger than it really is. The maneuvering also encourages leveraged purchases of securities by asset managers and enables banks to continue funding troubled customers, such as property developers with excess inventory and bloated steelmakers. Such grey-area investments reached nearly 20 trillion yuan ($2.8 trillion) at the end of last year, says Fitch Ratings, or about 26% of China’s GDP in 2016, up from less than 10% three years earlier. They now represent an average of 19% of small and midsize banks’ total assets, compared with about 1% for big state banks, according to Fitch.

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America’s unsolvable problem has been solved in dozens of countries.

This Is Not a Bill (Jim Kunstler)

The way it works now, the so-called “providers” (doctors, hospitals) refuse to post the cost of any service, and then charge whatever they feel they can extract, subject to an abstruse and dishonest ceremonial “negotiation” with the insurance company. The result: hospital and insurance executives get paid multi-million dollar salaries, doctors get to drive fine German cars, and the patient gets financially ass-raped, kicked to the curb, and eventually stuffed into the bankruptcy courts. ObamaCare did nothing to fix this. It just added more victims to the rolls and upped the price of admission for a personal financial ass-raping, so that an insured individual could go to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy and end up getting dunned for thousands of dollars — or even more if one of the hosptial’s favorite cute scams is applied, such as calling in an out-of-network anesthesiologist to knock you unconscious (in which state you are unlikely to inquire whether he/she/zhe is in-network or out).

Under the current system, a hospital can bill you $5,999 to stitch up a cut finger, mitigate a bee-sting, or wind an Ace bandage around a sprained ankle, and you’re sure not to learn the cost-of-treatment until the postman drops off the incomprehensible “explanation of benefits” from the insurance company that states in bold print on top “This Is Not a Bill,” but actually is a report of your own incipient financial ass-raping. But judging from the news reports this day, none of these issues is actually on the table in the congressional debate. I don’t believe the editors of The New York Times are necessarily “in bed” with the overpaid hospital CEOs and the insurance company fraudsters. They are simply putting up a defense of their previous psychological investment in Democratic Party ideology — in the shibboleth that ObamaCare was unquestionably a great thing because it was created under the magically empowered 44th president.

I can believe that both Democratic and Republican law-makers are not only in bed with the medical fraudsters of all categories, but are performing a particularly odious form of sadomasochistic bondage-and-discipline sex in exchange for payoffs. Note, too, that none of the aforementioned major media have reported what the medical and insurance lobbyists have paid to their rent-boys and doxies in the US capitol. Wouldn’t you like to know?

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“Money is seen as a “veil” placed over the activities of the real economy, a mere contrivance to get around the inconveniences of barter.”

Review of Steve Keen’s Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (R.)

The preference for high theory and abstruse mathematical modeling meant that mainstream economics had come to rest on a number of gloriously improbable assumptions. In their models, millions of households were reduced to a single “representative agent,” a God-like being, omniscient and immortal. This unreal creature inhabited a world where peace – or equilibrium – ruled. Crises were impossible in such an Eden, unless a mischievous serpent entered from abroad. But such an outcome was naturally impossible to predict. Both Romer and Keen agree that the most serious error of modern macroeconomics is that it ignores finance. Money is seen as a “veil” placed over the activities of the real economy, a mere contrivance to get around the inconveniences of barter.

Minsky, by contrast, saw capitalism as a financial system in which millions of balance sheets and cash flows were intertwined in a highly complex fashion. Money and credit are the essence of capitalism: economic transactions can only take place after financing. The trouble is that credit is inherently unstable, prone to expand excessively and to inflate asset price bubbles, which in time collapse, causing a cascade of defaults throughout the economy. In Minsky’s world, the tail of finance wags the real economy dog. Anyone who paid serious attention to credit, as Keen did prior to 2008, could hardly have failed to notice that something was amiss. After all, credit was growing very rapidly in the United States, in Australia and across much of Europe. Keen’s own contribution at the time was to point out that it wouldn’t take a collapse of credit to cause a serious economic downturn – a mere slowdown in the rate of lending would do the job.

This prediction was vindicated in 2008, when credit growth slowed sharply but remained positive, sending the U.S. economy into a tailspin. Keen is now calling for the dominant macroeconomic models to be jettisoned and replaced by ones that take account of credit. In his book, he develops a simple credit-based macro model. The economists at the Bank for International Settlements have constructed a “financial cycle” model along similar lines. In the end, the money-free macro models appear doomed. Yet progress has been painfully slow to date. As Max Planck said, science advances one funeral at a time – failing death, retirement would do the trick.

So what of the next crisis? With his eye on credit growth, Keen sees China as a terminal case. The People’s Republic has expanded credit at an annualized rate of around 25 per cent for years on end. Private-sector debt exceeds 200 per cent of GDP, making China resemble the over-indebted economies of Ireland and Spain prior to 2008, but obviously far more significant to the global economy. “This bubble has to burst,” writes Keen unequivocally.

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Untenable, but zero movement towards addressing the issue.

France and Greece Heavily Disadvantaged by Euro as Germany Benefits (WE)

It is now incontestable that Germany benefits greatly from the Euro. The weaker members of the Euro drag down the external value of the Euro compared with the US Dollar making German exports far more competitive than they would otherwise be. Despite the relative value of the Euro being lower than would be the case if the Euro was the currency of Germany alone, the Euro’s value relative to the Dollar is still significantly higher than would be the case were the Euro the currency of an independent Greece or France.

In Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms the Euro in Germany is some 32% undervalued compared with the Greek Euro, greatly benefiting German exporters, but imposing a burden on Greek exporters that they must find impossible to cope with. Conversely the overvaluation facing French companies is now a clear 20% compared with German companies.

 

Brazil and Argentina suffer from overvalued currencies against the US Dollar, suggesting one reason for the serious recession suffered by South America’s biggest economies over the past year. In contrast Canada, Russia, China, Mexico, Turkey and India all have currencies between 15% and 44% undervalued against the US Dollar, suggesting that at least some of Mr Trump’s rhetoric is justified. Over time these fundamental disparities have not shrunk, they have in fact widened. The charts to the upper right show the trend of German undervaluation against the French and Greek Euro’s in Purchasing power terms.

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“Although the major Western media portrays the EU authorities’ policies as the only sensible course, in economic terms, it is anything but.”

How the Eurozone Damaged French Politics – And The Election (Nation)

[..] there is a structural problem in the eurozone, and in the EU. The ECB, the European Commission, and the IMF (which is not an independent entity but generally answers to its European directors for decisions affecting Europe), are the European authorities that have increasingly constrained the economic decision-making of European governments. We can also include the eurogroup of finance ministers, which has tormented poor Greece and helped prolong that country’s interminable economic crisis. These people have shown that they are committed to creating a different kind of Europe. This can be seen in a paper trail of thousands of pages of documents, called Article IV consultations, where the IMF and EU government finance ministries hammer out their views on economic policies. These documents represent an elite consensus which can differ greatly from public opinion within the countries.

A review of 67 of these agreements for the four years 2008 through 2011, for 27 EU countries, showed a clear pattern of policy choices: cutting government spending, including on health care and pensions; increasing labor supply; reducing public sector employment; and changes in labor law that would reduce the scope of collective bargaining. This is the economic program that any politician or political party who does not want to be labeled as “anti-Europe” must adhere to, and it can be seen in the most recent (July 2016) IMF Article IV consultation for France, as well as the Stability Program that France has agreed to with the EU. These documents see France as freezing real spending, and committing to reducing its budget deficit to zero by 2021. These commitments imply that the French government can do nothing to reduce mass unemployment, which has averaged about 10% over the past year.

Although the major Western media portrays the EU authorities’ policies as the only sensible course, in economic terms, it is anything but. With France’s real borrowing costs near zero and inflation well below target, it makes sense for France to implement an economic stimulus, for example by increasing public investment. Fears of increasing the French public debt are unfounded; annual interest payments on that debt are currently at about 1.7% of GDP, a modest burden by any historical or international comparison.

[..] Since the 2008–09 world financial crisis and recession, the project of the eurozone, and to some extent of the EU, has created a destructive feedback loop that leads directly to the kind of dysfunctional politics now unfolding in France. It is one thing to give up some national sovereignty for a common project that can raise common living standards; it is quite another to surrender a country’s most important macroeconomic decision-making (monetary, exchange rate, and increasingly fiscal policy) to unaccountable authorities who have demonstrated their commitment to a regressive agenda. The Center Left’s collaboration with this program, e.g., President Hollande’s in France, has given the Far Right opportunities not seen since the 1930s.

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Good thing everybody already knows it’s Putin again. No reasoning needed.

Macron Team Blasts ‘Massive Hacking Attack’ (R.)

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team says it has been the victim of a massive and coordinated hacking operation. A large trove of emails from the campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was posted online late on Friday, 1-1/2 days before voters go to the polls to choose the country’s next president in a run-off against far-right rival Marine Le Pen. Some nine gigabytes of data were posted by a user called EMLEAKS to Pastebin, a document-sharing site that allows anonymous posting. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for posting the data or whether the emails were genuine. In a statement, Macron’s political movement En Marche! (Onwards!) confirmed that it had been hacked.

“The En Marche! Movement has been the victim of a massive and co-ordinated hack this evening which has given rise to the diffusion on social media of various internal information,” the statement said. An interior ministry official declined to comment, citing French rules which forbid any commentary liable to influence an election, and which took effect at midnight French time on Friday (2200 GMT). Comments about the email dump began to appear on Friday evening just hours before the official ban on campaigning began. The ban is due to stay in place until the last polling stations close on Sunday at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT).

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Perhaps the failure of the EU is not clear enough yet everywhere.

Macron Personifies The Very Europe Whose Failure Feeds Le Pen (Zizek)

The title of a comment piece which appeared in The Guardian, the UK voice of the anti-Assange-pro-Hillary liberal left, says it all: “Le Pen is a far-right Holocaust revisionist. Macron isn’t. Hard choice?” Predictably, the text proper begins with: “Is being an investment banker analogous with being a Holocaust revisionist? Is neoliberalism on a par with neofascism?” and mockingly dismisses even the conditional leftist support for the second-round Macron vote, the stance of: “I’d now vote Macron – VERY reluctantly.” This is liberal blackmail at its worst: one should support Macron unconditionally; it doesn’t matter that he is a neoliberal centrist, just that he is against Le Pen. It’s the old story of Hillary versus Trump: in the face of the fascist threat, we should all gather around her banner (and conveniently forget how her side brutally outmanoeuvred Sanders and thus contributed to losing the election).

Are we not allowed at least to raise the question: yes, Macron is pro-European – but what kind of Europe does he personify? The very Europe whose failure feeds Le Pen populism, the anonymous Europe in the service of neoliberalism. This is the crux of the affair: yes, Le Pen is a threat, but if we throw all our support behind Macron, do we not get caught into a kind of circle and fight the effect by way of supporting its cause? This brings to mind a chocolate laxative available in the US. It is publicised with the paradoxical injunction: “Do you have constipation? Eat more of this chocolate!” – in other words, eat the very thing that causes constipation in order to be cured of it. In this sense, Macron is the chocolate-laxative candidate, offering us as a cure for the very thing that caused the illness.

[..] In the hopeless situation we are in, facing a false choice, we should gather the courage and simply abstain from voting. Abstain, and begin to think. The commonplace “enough talking, let’s act” is deeply deceiving – now, we should say precisely the opposite: enough of the pressure to do something, let’s begin to talk seriously, ie, to think! And by this I mean we should also leave behind the radical leftist self-complacency of endlessly repeating how the choices we are offered in the political space are false, and how only a renewed radical left can save us – yes, in a way, but why, then, does this left not emerge? What vision has the left to offer that would be strong enough to mobilise people? We should never forget that the ultimate cause of the act that we are caught into – the vicious cycle of Le Pen and Macron – is the disappearance of the viable leftist alternative.

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Sharp thinking. Make literally everyone incapable of understanding anything that’s said.

The English Language Is Losing Importance In Europe – Juncker (G.)

The English language is losing importance in Europe, the president of the European commission has said amid simmering tensions over the Brexit negotiations. Speaking to an audience of European diplomats and experts in Florence, Jean-Claude Juncker also described the UK’s decision to leave the EU as a tragedy. “Slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe,” Juncker said, to applause from his audience. “The French will have elections on Sunday and I would like them to understand what I am saying.” After these opening remarks in English, he switched to French for the rest of the speech. Making a stout defence of the EU, Juncker said the UK had voted to leave the project despite historic successes and a recent uptick in economic growth. “Our British friends decided to leave the EU, which is a tragedy,” he said.

[..] It is not the first time the English language has been caught in the crossfire of the Brexit negotiations. At a recent EU summit May slapped down reports that Brexit negotiations would be conducted in French, and after the June referendum EU officials made it known they planned to downgrade the use of English in the corridors of Brussels. In reality, the Brexit talks are most likely to be conducted in French and English with simultaneous interpretation. Barnier, a former French EU commissioner who clashed with the City of London, speaks English but wants the right to negotiate in his native tongue. English is also highly unlikely to disappear as a dominant language in the EU any time soon. Not only is it an official language for the Irish and Maltese governments, but many diplomats prefer to use English as a common second language rather than French.”

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2018 at the earliest. Then again, debt relief would make Greece less of a slave, so maybe much longer or not at all.

Germany Says No Debt Relief Being Prepared For Greece (R.)

No debt relief measures are being readied for Greece, Germany’s Finance Ministry said on Thursday after the Handelsblatt business daily reported measures were under consideration. The implementation of reforms that Greece agreed to in return for aid would help ensure the sustainability of the country’s debt, the ministry said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters. “No debt relief is being prepared,” it added. Regarding possible debt measures, a clear agreement was reached in a statement by the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers last May. “According to that, after the full implementation of the adjustment program, there will be an assessment of whether debt measures are necessary. That still applies,” it said. Earlier, Handelsblatt reported that Greece’s international lenders were preparing possible debt relief for Athens for discussion by the finance ministers.

The European Commission, the ESM eurozone rescue fund, the ECB and the IMF had prepared various debt measures in a document to be sent to the Eurogroup for further discussion, it said, citing people familiar with the document. One option was for the ESM to take over loans paid out by the IMF. The advantage would be lower interest rates charged by the ESM. Others included extending debt maturities and having the ECB and national central banks send profits made on Greek bonds to Athens through national governments, Handelsblatt reported. An EU source told Reuters the document was originally a paper by the ESM, not all four institutions, and had been modified on the way to the version Handelsblatt saw.

“It lays down several options for the restructuring of Greek debt and specifies possibilities which were given by the Eurogroup last May. One of the options still is that ESM would take debt from IMF,” the source said. “It is not clear yet if the IMF would agree on that.” Separately, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in Durban, South Africa that the EU needed to “exert pressure on national governments to implement … much-needed reforms.” “Those countries which received help under European assistance programmes, and therefore had to actually implement unpleasant reforms, and those countries which have kept to the agreed rules are among the most successful countries in the EU today,” he said. “The problem is therefore not with the rules, but with the lack of implementation of them.

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Warfare, financial or otherwise.

The Forgotten History of Cinco de Mayo (IC)

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of Mexican troops over the invading French army at the Battle of Puebla southeast of Mexico City on May 5, 1862. Because the Mexican soldiers were badly outnumbered and outgunned, the unexpected triumph was a watershed in forging the country’s national identity. (Militarily it wasn’t that significant — the next year France captured the Mexican capital and installed a member of the Austrian nobility as Maximillian I, “Emperor of Mexico.”) But here’s important part for everyone else to remember today: France was invading Mexico essentially because Mexico owed France money. Mexico had borrowed enormous amounts from Europe during the Mexican-American War from 1846-8 and in a civil war from 1858-61.

By 1862 it was impossible for the government to make timely payments on the loans without starving the country, and Mexican president Benito Juárez declared that all payments on foreign debt would be suspended for two years. Getting into unsustainable debt is not something unique to Mexico; countries have done so over and over throughout history, particularly during wars. The U.S. borrowed more than we could ever repay from France and the Netherlands during the Revolutionary War, and the U.K. borrowed far beyond its means from the U.S. during World War I. When this happens, it’s far better for both the debtors and creditors to organize some kind of default rather than forcing the debtors to pay all the money back on the original terms. The advantage for debtors is obvious.

More intelligent creditors understand it’s also good for them, because they generally don’t have a choice between getting all or just some of their money back. Instead, it’s a choice between getting some of it back or much less. To understand why, imagine loaning too much money to a software engineer. If you demand that the engineer sell all their computers to make interest payments, you’re unlikely to get much more money after that. And indeed both the U.S. and U.K. defaulted to varying degrees after their wars. Likewise, in 1862 the U.K. and Spain agreed to accept less than they were formally owed by Mexico. France, however, invaded Mexico in an attempt to get all its money back, which is why French troops were there for the Battle of Puebla on May 5.

In a sense, the invasion was admirably honest. International relations are often like organized crime on a gigantic scale, but people pretend otherwise. Here there was no pretense: The loanshark’s enforcers beat the crap out of an entire country. By contrast, creditors today have institutions like the IMF, which has often functioned as a creditors’ cartel — squeezing countries until they pay back their debts. This often involves lots of people dying … but in quiet ways, without armies involved.

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The EU isn’t only giving us Le Pen, it’s presenting us with this too.

Rescuers Pick Up 560 Migrants Off Libyan Coast On Thursday (R.)

Rescuers picked up 560 migrants from unsafe boats off the coast of Libya on Thursday, Italy’s Coast Guard said, including the body of a young man who the migrants said had been shot by smugglers on the beach for his baseball cap. Italian Navy and Coast Guard boats participated in the rescues together with two humanitarian vessels, a spokesman said. The migrants were traveling on board two large rubber boats and five small wooden ones, he added. The Phoenix, a rescue ship operated by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), took 422 on board, plus the body of the allegedly murdered young Gambian. “According to eyewitnesses, the deceased teenager was killed by human traffickers because they wanted his baseball hat. What cruelty,” MOAS co-founder Chris Catrambone said.

“The medical team onboard the Phoenix have confirmed that the deceased teenager died from gunshot wound,” he added. MOAS doctors are also caring for another teenage boy who has a gunshot wound to the stomach, but is stable. German NGO Jugend Rettet also helped with the rescues. Separately, Doctors Without Borders said its rescue ship Prudence would arrive in the Sicilian port of Catania early on Friday with the corpses of six migrants, including five women, who it had picked up in the Mediterranean in recent days. There had been a pause of boat departures from Libya, where smugglers operate with impunity, since Easter, because of bad weather and sea conditions. But boat migrant arrivals in Italy are still up 30 percent so far this year from 2016, when a record 181,000 arrived.

Humanitarian rescue ships have come in for criticism in Italy in recent months, with Catania chief prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro opening a fact-finding investigation into possible ties between NGOs and people-smugglers. The NGOs have strongly denied the accusations, including representatives from MOAS who testified in Italy’s parliament earlier on Thursday. They say their only mission is to save lives. Zuccaro has yet to present any evidence of illicit activities and has not opened a criminal investigation.

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May 032017
 
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Leonardo da Vinci A Copse of Trees 1508

 

Trump: US “Needs A Good Shutdown In September To Fix This Mess” (ZH)
Home Capital Fails to Draw Buyout Interest From Canada Banks (BBG)
Hot Air Hisses Out of US Auto Bubble (WS)
May’s Election Fighting Talk Fuels Brexit War of Words With EU (BBG)
Le Pen Wants A French National Currency Within Two Years After Election (R.)
Macron Victory Could Mark The Start Of Political Upheaval For France (CNBC)
Italy Is Europe’s Next Big Problem (BBG)
Soros At it Again – Trying to Overthrow Polish Government? (Martin Armstrong)
In Tense Encounter, Merkel Tells Putin Sanctions Must Remain (BBG)
‘It’s Very Important We Hear What Putin Has To Say’ – Oliver Stone (RT)
Adults in the Room – One Of The Greatest Political Memoirs Ever (Mason)
Greece, Creditors To Discuss Options For Debt Restructuring (CNBC)
Greece Will Avoid Default After Bailout Deal – But Faces More Austerity (G.)
Greek Poverty Deepens During Seven Years Of Austerity (AP)

 

 

September’s a long way away.

Trump: US “Needs A Good Shutdown In September To Fix This Mess” (ZH)

With Congress poised this week to approve a deal to fund the government through September, the first major bipartisan legislation of Trump’s presidency, after lengthy negotiations (which have appeared to signal numerous ‘folds’ by President Trump), apparently frustrated by the lack of tryannical powers that a simple majority grants him, President Trump has lashed out this morning at disagreeable Democrats, and in particular Senate Democrats. As a reminder, the proposed government funding deal does not include funding for Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border or include language stripping federal money from so-called sanctuary cities, both of which the White House demanded at the outset of negotiations. In fact, as we reported yesterday, the bill has been seen widely as a victory for Democrats, something which has been panned by the conservative press.

While the White House also backed off a threat to withhold ObamaCare subsidy payments to insurance companies, Trump did secure increased military spending in the 2017 budget deal. According to the Hill, the comments are likely irk top Republican lawmakers, who have been frustrated by Trump’s repeated attempts to intervene in the legislative process. The businessman-turned-president, in turn, has vented frustration with the slow pace of work on Capitol Hill. “I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go quicker,” Trump told Fox News last week when asked about the Republican effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Commenting on Trump’s tweets, Citi asks rhetorically whether “this could be a case of cutting one’s nose to spit one’s face? – Potentially problematic when the nose in question is attached to the current administration… It seems counterintuitive that a sitting president would want a shutdown, unless he was to blame it on the opposition in order to force through reform/encourage a voter backlash.”

Bloomberg reports that “The message appeared to encourage the Republican-controlled Senate to change rules that now require 60 votes to end a filibuster of legislation. Republicans reduced the threshold to 51 votes for Supreme Court nominees this year and could do the same for legislation with a simple majority vote.” USD does not seem to have reacted to the President’s tweet (it can’t every time, after all), which may just be more political manoeuvring rather than a signal of intent. In any case, we’re not so sure there is such a thing as a “good” shutdown of the US government – and with what will be over $20 trillion in debt and a declining GDP by that time, one wonders which ratings agency will have the balls to downgrade the world’s reserve currency this time?

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“Someone will buy it for a dollar because they want to get the loan book [..] it goes for a lot less than it’s trading at today.”

Home Capital Fails to Draw Buyout Interest From Canada Banks (BBG)

Canadian banks and financial firms are so far showing little interest in buying Home Capital, vindicating short-sellers who say the embattled mortgage lender could be sold off piecemeal, driving the stock down further. “People in the industry would rather see these guys go out of business because the loans aren’t worth the risk, and they’re so leveraged,” said Marc Cohodes, a private investor and part-time chicken farmer in California who has been shorting the stock, or betting on declines, for more than two years. Home Capital’s rival Equitable joined a list of companies that have said they aren’t interested in taking over the struggling mortgage lender, which hired investment banks last week for a possible sale after the stock plunged by two-thirds amid a regulatory probe.

“The bottom line is no,” Equitable Chief Executive Officer Andrew Moor said on Monday. “We have some concerns based on what we’ve read about how they underwrote their loans and their internal controls.” Other banks have indicated that they aren’t interested. Canadian Western Bank CEO Chris Fowler said his Edmonton, Alberta-based lender, which has an alternative mortgage business, would not be a buyer for all of Home Capital. He added the bank will consider “selectively” acquiring loan portfolios. A Laurentian Bank of Canada spokeswoman said that for the lender to be interested in an acquisition it needs to be financially sound and a good strategic fit. Laurentian is active in the alternative lending space.

Canada’s biggest commercial banks, meanwhile, are unlikely to be interested because Home Capital’s mortgages are with customers who wouldn’t qualify for a loan with them, said Sumit Malhotra, an analyst at Bank of Nova Scotia, in a research note. They might be interested in the loan book, he added. [,,] Other short sellers agree with Cohodes. Jerome Hass at Lightwater in Toronto, said he wonders why anybody would buy Home Capital when they could just pick up the mortgages. “It’s got all this litigation against it, it’s going to have all these liabilities against it, so why not just take their loan book off their hands?” Hass said in an interview. “Someone will buy it for a dollar because they want to get the loan book, but I don’t see it going for much, and it goes for a lot less than it’s trading at today.”

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No purchasing power.

Hot Air Hisses out of US Auto Bubble (WS)

A 4.7% drop in sales, bad as it is, wouldn’t qualify for #carmageddon. These things happen. But here’s the thing: Automakers had shelled out $3,465 in incentives per new vehicle sold, on average, according to TrueCar estimates. A record for the month of April. It beat the prior record of $3,393, set in April 2009. It amounts to about 10% of suggested retail price, similar to March. The last period when incentive spending was at this level of MSRP was in 2009 as the industry and sales were collapsing. The #carmageddon point to watch: despite the 13.4% year-over-year surge in incentive spending to nearly $5 billion, total vehicle sales fell 4.7%! When these massive incentives fail to even slow the sales decline, serious problems lurk beneath the surface. This table shows the largest automakers, their year-over-year sales performance – the sea of red ink – along with average per-unit incentive spending and total incentive spending:

GM shelled out the most incentives on average per vehicle, in total $1.23 billion. In March, it had spent about $1.3 billion. At this rate, GM is spending just under $4 billion per quarter in incentives. By comparison, in its Q1 earnings, GM reported “North America” revenue of $29.3 billion. At this rate, it is spending about 13% of its North American revenues on US incentives. But it’s just not working out. Total sales dropped nearly 5.9%, to 244,200 units, with car sales plunging 12.5% and even truck sales falling 3.2%. A gruesome detail: Silverado-C/K pickup sales plunged 20% to 40,154 units. Total retail sales (not including fleet sales) fell 4% to 191,911 vehicles. GM ended the month with 100 days’ supply, up from the nail-biter level of 98 days at the end of March.

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The UK is so divided along multiple fault lines that May has nothing, unless she’s prepared to walk away.

May’s Election Fighting Talk Fuels Brexit War of Words With EU (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May vowed she won’t be pushed around in Brexit talks with the European Union as her war of words with Brussels escalates before negotiations even begin. The premier said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is learning she can be “bloody difficult” after leaked details of a dinner meeting between the leaders alleged he was shocked by her approach to negotiating Brexit. May won a measure of support from several European government officials, who distanced themselves from Juncker’s apparent skepticism about the chances of a Brexit deal. The row blew up after details of the allegedly disastrous meal Juncker attended at May’s London residence last week were reported by a German newspaper.

“What we’ve seen recently is that at times these negotiations are going to be tough,” May told BBC television in an interview Tuesday. “During the Conservative Party leadership campaign, I was described by one of my colleagues as a bloody difficult woman. And I said at the time the next person to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker.” The clash between London and the European Commission comes as May seeks re-election on June 8 in a campaign defined by Brexit, and the argument won’t necessarily hurt her chances. While EU officials are concerned about such a public dispute ahead of negotiations, it could help May’s Tories convince voters the U.K. needs what she calls her “strong and stable leadership” for the Brexit talks.

May claims her main rival for power, opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, would be too “weak” to succeed at the negotiating table. Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper said on Sunday that Juncker left a dinner on April 26 “10 times more skeptical” of reaching a Brexit deal. In her interview on the campaign trail, May told the BBC she hopes to agree an accord that works for the U.K. and the EU, saying there’s “a lot of similarity” between her proposals and the bloc’s negotiating guidelines.

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Can a national currency exist alongside a European one?

Le Pen Wants A French National Currency Within Two Years After Election (R.)

Far-right presidential challenger Marine Le Pen said capital controls could be used if she won the election and there was a run on banks as she negotiated France’s exit from the European Union, but stressed they were unlikely to be needed. In an interview with Reuters ahead of Sunday’s decisive second round, Le Pen reaffirmed she wanted to take France out of the euro and said she hoped the French people would have a national currency in their pockets within two years. Le Pen said she wanted to replace the EU single currency with another, looser type of cooperation in the form of the ECU basket of currencies that preceded the euro. That would exist alongside a national currency.

“The objective is to transform the euro ‘single currency’ into a euro ‘common currency’, going back to the ancestor of the euro, the ECU, which was an accounting unit that did not stop each country from having each its own currency,” Le Pen said. Calling the euro a deadweight on the French economy, the National Front candidate said a new national currency would better protect French people’s savings. She accused the “establishment” of wanting to “frighten” voters into thinking otherwise. “I am convinced there won’t be any banking crisis,” Le Pen said when asked if French negotiations to quit the EU could trigger a run on French banks.

Asked if she would impose capital controls if savers nevertheless did rush to take their money out of banks, she said: “If there’s a run on banks, we could very well imagine such a solution for a few days, but I’m telling you it won’t happen.” Le Pen said she would launch negotiations over reforms of the EU immediately after winning, saying this would allow France to regain national sovereignty. The talks would include ditching the euro as well as regaining control of France’s borders and being able to decide French legislation alone, she said. Those negotiations could last six to eight months, she said, after which France would hold a referendum on its EU membership.

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Whatever happens in Sunday’s 2nd round, a mess is certain.

Macron Victory Could Mark The Start Of Political Upheaval For France (CNBC)

France’s political course is likely to remain far from certain even with a win for presumed victor Emmanuel Macron, as his inability to form a parliamentary majority threatens to undermine his authority both domestically and across Europe, political analysts have suggested. Sunday’s second round runoff will mark the start of a period of tension for the country as the successful candidate waits to see if they can garner a large enough parliamentary majority in June’s legislative election to enact change, Dominique Reynié, professor of political science at the Sciences Po institute in Paris, told CNBC Tuesday. “I’m not worried about Macron’s ability to win, but the question surrounds what kind of turnout he will achieve and what his ability to gain a majority in the June election will be,” explained Reynié.

Polls are currently pitching centrist Macron to gain anywhere from a 59% to a 64% lead on his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen. However, this lead will do little to boost Macron’s authority in government, Reynié suggests. The independent will have to gain significant support from other parties if he is to form a majority when France once again heads to the polls on June 11 and June 18 to elect the 577 members of its National Assembly. “It will all depend on his margin of victory. A 55 to 45% win for Macron would be a disaster. Even 60 to 40 is not at all a triumph; a 20% margin would be very difficult. “It would be a crisis. It is not normal and would be a problem both on the streets of France and for Europe,” said Reynié.

In the first round of voting, Macron’s En Marche!, or Onwards! party, achieved a majority in 240 constituencies versus Le Pen’s 216. However, Reynié says this is simply not enough. “The smaller Macron’s majority the harder it will be for him to win the general election in June. He needs support; it is not possible to have power as President without support. “This could cause parliament to be largely fragmented like in the first round, with discussions taking place in fractured groups. Macron will have to negotiate with MPs and will be fragile and unpopular.”

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Has been for years.

Italy Is Europe’s Next Big Problem (BBG)

Emmanuel Macron looks on course to become France’s new president, ending the threat of a euroskeptic at the Elysee. Even if Macron wins, though, it’ll be too soon to celebrate a new phase of stability in the euro zone. Across the Alps, an economic and political storm is brewing – and there’s no sign anyone can stop it. Italy’s economic problems are in many ways worse than France’s. Public debt stands at nearly 133% of gross domestic product; in France, it’s 96%. The last time Italy grew faster than France was in 1995. Both countries have struggled to stay competitive internationally – but French productivity has risen by roughly 15% since 2001, whereas Italy’s has stagnated.

Meanwhile Italian politics goes from bad to worse. The Five Star Movement, a populist force that wants to hold a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro system, is riding high in the polls and currently neck and neck with the center-left Democratic Party. The general election, scheduled for next spring, is unlikely to produce a clear winner – and there’s even a small chance it may result in a Eurosceptic government, if the Five Stars were to win enough votes and form an alliance with the fiercely anti-euro Northern League. Europhiles in Italy are busily looking for an Italian Macron – someone who could offer a liberal remedy for Italy’s economic woes while fighting off the threat of “It-exit.” Investors would like that. In the autumn, the European Central Bank looks set to slow its purchases of government debt. The prospect of political instability in Rome could spook investors, raising doubts over the sustainability of Italy’s debt.

In many ways, Matteo Renzi, Italy’s former prime minister, who resigned after a heavy defeat in December’s constitutional referendum, would be the obvious choice. At 42, he is only three years older than Macron. He too has sought to modernize the left, even though he preferred to climb through the ranks of his party, rather than set up a new one as Macron did. The trouble is that Renzi looks increasingly like a spent force. He has just obtained a fresh mandate as party leader, but many Italians doubt his promises because he reneged on a pledge to quit politics if he lost the referendum. His message has also become muddled. He claims to be pro-EU, but never misses a chance to bash Brussels – for imposing fiscal austerity, especially. Why should voters opt for Renzi’s half-hearted euroskepticism when they can have the real thing?

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“Money does not give you the right to fund revolutions to recast the world in your image.”

Soros At it Again – Trying to Overthrow Polish Government? (Martin Armstrong)

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong, I attended your March 1999 conference in Tokyo when I worked for ___ bank. I remember you called out Soros and crew and said they were trying to manipulate the yen for fiscal year end. You warned the Japanese how to defeat the Club. If I remember, he and his crew lost $1 billion when everyone in Tokyo followed your advice. Many assumed what they did to you 6 months later was retribution. Now he is at it in Poland funneling money he made from such trading in through Norway to create political unrest. What is it with this guy? Why does he play God?

ANSWER: Oh yes. I remember that event very clearly. That’s why they started calling me Mr. Yen because it was me and our clients against the Club and the Club lost. They were trying to push the yen down for the fiscal year-end roll of March 31st and then run it up into April 1st. They had our clients lock it in and that forced the manipulators out. That was a wild day – 3 big figures in a single day in an outside-reversal was a big move back then. I know the rumor was that Soros was in on that and the Club lost $1 billion. Not sure how much they lost on that one. It was the good-old fun days of confrontations. The Polish government wants to stop the distribution of Norwegian money flowing into Poland coming from Soros’ funded Batory Foundation, which manages over 800 million euros with a target of overthrowing the Polish government by 2020.

Since 2014, the Batory Foundation has distributed some 130 million zlotys (around 31.7 million euros) to various associations and organizations within Poland to change the government. According to Bloomberg, this includes organizations for the promotion of parliamentary democracy , but only if it agrees with Soros agenda. Effectively, Soros is trying to defeat ‘Catholic values’ in Poland which are supported by the population and government. [..] Soros has publicly stated he does not believe in God. Many who worked for him said they think he believes he is a god with the right to reshape the world in his image. So have many throughout history and they are responsible for the murder of countless millions. Money does not give you the right to fund revolutions to recast the world in your image.

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Merkel knows Putin can’t give in on Ukraine. Useless rhetoric.

In Tense Encounter, Merkel Tells Putin Sanctions Must Remain (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Vladimir Putin that EU sanctions will have to remain on Russia as the two leaders clashed over Ukraine, human rights and election meddling at a chilly encounter in the Black Sea city of Sochi. Addressing a joint press conference with Putin after about two hours of talks on Tuesday, Merkel raised concerns about the rights of homosexuals in Chechnya and Russia’s role in the war in Syria. She devoted much of her time to the lack of progress in resolving the three-year-old conflict in Ukraine. While Putin sought to lay the blame on the Ukrainian government, the chancellor said that a cease-fire is required as part of the “arduous” so-called Minsk process for restoring peace in eastern Ukraine and appealed to him to make it happen.

“My goal remains to get to the point where we can lift EU sanctions, but there’s a link here,” Merkel told reporters on her first visit to Russia since May 2015. The peace process is “moving very slowly, we only make progress in small steps and constantly have setbacks.” Merkel, who met with President Donald Trump at the White House in March, is visiting Putin in her capacity as holder of the presidency of the Group of 20 nations. As well as Ukraine, Merkel and Putin discussed the civil war in Syria and the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July, when the Russian and U.S. presidents are scheduled to meet for the first time. Ukraine was the main flashpoint, with Putin reiterating his stance that the Russian-backed breakaway regions in southeastern Ukraine split off because of a “coup d’etat, an unconstitutional change of power in Kiev.”

Merkel noted the two leaders’ “different opinions” about the origins of the conflict in Ukraine, which spiraled after protests over a scrapped accord with the EU triggered the downfall of the Russian-backed government in 2014. “We don’t share this view,” Merkel said in the briefing, which dispensed with the usual pleasantries or leaders’ banter. “We think that the Ukrainian government came to power through democratic means.” Although she’s among Putin’s sternest critics, Merkel has sought to keep a channel open to the Russian leader even as she holds the line on EU sanctions, which are a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and backing for Ukrainian separatists. Hours before Putin was scheduled to speak by phone with Trump on Tuesday, he responded again to allegations of electoral interference, saying “we never interfere in the political life of other countries.”

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There are people with less bias on Putin. Just not in US or EU politics.

‘It’s Very Important We Hear What Putin Has To Say’ – Oliver Stone (RT)

The man behind three films about American presidents, Oliver Stone, says his upcoming feature about Russian President Vladimir Putin “opens up a whole viewpoint that we as Americans haven’t heard,” and could help prevent “a dangerous situation – on the brink of war.” Academy Award-winning director and revered documentary filmmaker Stone said in interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that his new film about Putin will be released soon. “It’s not a documentary as much as a question and answer session,” he said. “Mr. Putin is one of the most important leaders in the world and in so far as the United States has declared him an enemy – a great enemy – I think it’s very important we hear what he has to say.” The film will present Putin’s viewpoint of political events since he was first elected president of Russia in March 2000.

“It opens up a whole viewpoint that we as Americans haven’t heard,” Stone told the newspaper, adding that his crew went to see the indefatigable Russian leader four times over the course of two years. “I talked to him originally about the Snowden affair, which is in the film. And out of that grew, I think, a trust that he knew that I would not edit it so much,” he said, adding that Putin “talks pretty straight.” “I think we did him the justice of putting [his comments] into a Western narrative that could explain their viewpoint in the hopes that it will prevent continued misunderstanding and a dangerous situation – on the brink of war.” The 70-year-old director also commented the accusations of Russian influence on the US presidential elections.

“That’s a path that leads nowhere to my mind. That’s an internal war of politics in the US in which the Democratic Party has taken a suicide pact or something to blow him up; in other words, to completely de-legitimize him and in so doing blow up the US essentially. “What they’re doing is destroying the trust that exists between people and government. It’s a very dangerous position to make accusations you cannot prove,” he added. Stone also said he does not believe claims circulating in the mainstream media that Moscow allegedly passed some classified documents to WikiLeaks in a bid to influence the November US elections. “I hold Assange [WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange] in high regard in many issues of state. I take very seriously his statement that he received no information from Russia or any state actors,” Stone said.

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“.. it is French and German taxpayers who will pay the price when the Greek debt is inevitably written off.”

I should get the book later this week.

Adults in the Room – One Of The Greatest Political Memoirs Ever (Mason)

Varoufakis began on the outside – both of elite politics and the Greek far left – swerved to the inside, and then abruptly abandoned it, after he was sacked by his former ally, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, in July 2015. He dramatises his intent throughout the crisis with a telling anecdote. He’s in Washington for a meeting with Larry Summers, the former US treasury secretary and Obama confidant. Summers asks him point blank: do you want to be on the inside or the outside? “Outsiders prioritise their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions,” Summers warns. Elected politicians have little power; Wall Street and a network of hedge funds, billionaires and media owners have the real power, and the art of being in politics is to recognise this as a fact of life and achieve what you can without disrupting the system.

That was the offer. Varoufakis not only rejected it – by describing it in frank detail now, he is arming us against the stupidity of the left’s occasional fantasies that the system built by neoliberalism can somehow bend or compromise to our desire for social justice. In this book, then, Varoufakis gives one of the most accurate and detailed descriptions of modern power ever written – an achievement that outweighs his desire for self-justification during the Greek crisis. He explains, with a weariness born of nights in soulless hotels and harsh-lit briefing rooms, how the modern power network is built. Aris gets a loan from Zorba’s bank; Zorba writes off the loan but Zorba’s construction company gets a contract from Aris’s ministry. Aris’s son gets a job at Zorba’s TV station, which for some reason is always bankrupt and so can never pay tax – and so on.

“The key to such power networks is exclusion and opacity,” Varoufakis writes. As sensitive information is bartered, “two-person alliances forge links with other such alliances … involving conspirators who conspire de facto without being conscious conspirators”. In the process of telling this story, Varoufakis not only spills the beans but beans of the kind the Greeks call gigantes – fat ones, full of juice. The first revelation is that not only was Greece bankrupt in 2010 when the EU bailed it out, and that the bailout was designed to save the French and German banks, but that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy knew this; and they knew it would be a disaster.

This charge is not new – it was levelled at the financial elite at the time by leftwing activists and rightwing economists. But Varoufakis substantiates it with quotes – some gleaned from the tapes of conversations and phone calls he was, unbeknown to the participants, making at the time. Even now, two years after the last Greek election, this is of more than academic interest. Greece remains burdened by billions of euros of debt it cannot pay. Because of the actions taken in 2010-11 – saving private banks by saddling north European states with massive debts – it is French and German taxpayers who will pay the price when the Greek debt is inevitably written off.

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Not going to happen until after the German fall election.

Greece, Creditors To Discuss Options For Debt Restructuring (CNBC)

Greece and its creditors are expected to discuss ways to restructure the country’s debt ahead of a meeting of euro zone finance ministers on May 22, a European official told CNBC on Tuesday. Athens agreed on Tuesday to introduce new laws on labor, energy reforms, pension cuts, and tax rises. This paves the way for a fresh disbursement of money from creditors in mid-June, but above all it allows Greece, its European creditors, and the IMF to consider how they will restructure the country’s debt. A European official who follows the bailout talks told CNBC that there isn’t a specific date for a solution to Greece’s debt but the first discussions on this issue will start soon. “From now until the Eurogroup meeting of May 22 there will be discussions to consider options for debt relief,” the official said.

Greece has to legislate the new reforms within two weeks. However, these new laws won’t take effect until 2019 and 2020 and will be dependent on the country’s economic performance. For example, among the new measures is the promise to cut pensions in 2019 and cut the tax-free threshold in 2020 to produce savings worth 2% of GDP. But if Athens exceeds its targets, it is allowed to offset the austerity measures and reduce taxes. During the first stages of talks on debt restructuring, the European Stability Mechanism, which is the euro zone’s permanent bailout fund, will produce a new debt sustainability analysis. Current economic forecasts indicate that Greece’s public debt stood at about 180% of GDP in 2016. The IMF will also be doing its debt sustainability analysis to include the recently-agreed measures.

The Fund wants an agreement on measures to make Greece’s debt more sustainable before deciding whether it is participating with its own money in the Greek bailout program. Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, spokesperson to the Greek government told reporters last month, that the IMF will make a “small” funding contribution that will not last for more than one year, so it ends at the same time as the current European program, which runs out in August of 2018. The IMF’s participation in the third bailout program to Greece is key for many euro countries, which perceive the fund’s involvement as giving credibility to the reform process in Greece. One of these countries is Germany, but the upcoming federal election might reduce Berlin’s room to restructure Greece’s debt.

“We will get some IMF participation, but no significant number,” Johannes Mayr, head of economic research at Bayern LB ,told CNBC via email. On the debt issue, “we need a compromise between the IMF and the EU/ESM (European Stability Mechanism), he said, “and this is realistic only after the German elections.” Neil Dwane, global strategist at Allianz Global Investors, added: “National governments, like Germany, would lose popularity if they wrote off Greek debt.” “I would expect more extend and pretend from the EU and the IMF,” he said via email.

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No Greek default, but nothing else either: again, until after the German fall election. And even then.

Greece Will Avoid Default After Bailout Deal – But Faces More Austerity (G.)

The long road to Greece emerging from its worst financial crisis in modern times reached another milestone on Tuesday as the country concluded a crucial compliance review that will allow it to avert default in July. At the cost of yet more painful austerity – in the form of extra pension cuts and tax increases – international creditors agreed to disburse €7.5bn (£6.3bn) in emergency loans to enable Athens to honour maturing debt repayments. More importantly, lenders accepted to set talks in motion on making Greece’s debt mountain more manageable – vital if the country is to gain access to the capital markets from which it has been almost completely exiled since 2009. [..] The deal ends more than six months of intense wrangling over the fiscal and structural reforms that Athens must implement in exchange for loans from its third, €86bn bailout programme.

Although the programme was outlined in 2015 when Greece came closest to crashing out of the eurozone and reverting to the drachma, the conditions attached to the lifeline remained open to negotiation. Discord most recently had focused on labour reforms and pensions – two issues that Tsakalotos, a British-trained Marxist economics professor, had felt especially strongly about. Under the agreement, the leftist-led government undertook to further slash pensions by 18% as of 2019. Pension payments have now been reduced 12 times since the start of the crisis, and cut by 40% in the past six years. With poorer out-of-work families often depending on them, news of a further drop was met with fury by union leaders, who immediately announced industrial action.

The two-party coalition led by the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, also agreed to broaden the tax-free threshold by effectively dispensing with tax breaks as of 2020. Both measures are expected to produce savings worth €3.6bn or 2% of GDP. “It will be a very hot spring,” Odysseus Trivalas, acting president of the union of public sector employees, told the Guardian. “We have yet to see the details of this agreement but what we know is that it will mean further cuts. There will be a lot of strikes and a general 24-hour lockdown when the measures are brought to parliament for vote.”

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“On a corner of Monastiraki Square full of tourists and passers-by, a group of volunteers from the soup kitchen O Allos Anthropos (The Fellow Man) cook chicken with rice. In less than 20 minutes, 230 hot meals are delivered to people who waited more than an hour to get them.”

Greek Poverty Deepens During Seven Years Of Austerity (AP)

Over the past seven years, austerity has left visible scars in Greece’s capital. A walk around Athens reveals more homeless people than ever despite some signs of a rosier economic outlook. Thousands of shops, mostly small businesses, are shuttered here and across the country. In what used to be a busy shopping arcade, closed stores are padlocked against a backdrop of hanging Greek flags. Whole families can be seen lining up for free meals at a growing number of soup kitchens. “Every day we feed 400 to 500 people, and this number has increased even more in the past two years,” says Evangelia Konsta, organizer and sponsor of the meals offered by the Church of Greece in a run-down neighborhood in central Athens.

Yesterday, IMF and European negotiators bailout negotiators reached an agreement with Greece’s government to continue rescue funding in return for a painful new round of cuts and higher taxes over the next three years. High unemployment and a steady decline of living standards for most Greeks for seven consecutive years have had lasting effects. Greece has survived on international rescue loans since 2010, granted by the IMF and other countries using the euro currency in exchange for drastic cuts in public spending and benefits. Greece is now in its third bailout. A few steps away from the Church-run soup kitchen is a homeless shelter also run by the Church. Guests in its tiny rooms include one family with their young children and a retired nurse suffering from cancer who is still waiting to get her pension application approved.

Another shelter, the “Shelter of Love and Solidarity,” has a great view of the ancient Acropolis that’s barely noticed by the hundreds of homeless and poor who come twice a week to wash their clothes and take a hot bath. “The shelter is the best option for us because the government doesn’t really do anything for us,” says Ilias Kosmidis, 38, who has been sleeping on the street for the past two years. While waiting to wash their clothes, people at the shelter have developed friendships, and catch up on the news, including the French presidential election. Sofia Vitalaki and her husband Costas, both retired civil servants, have run the shelter since 1991. “It’s not just the food,” she says. “Most people want their dignity back and here we try to support them.”

On a corner of Monastiraki Square full of tourists and passers-by, a group of volunteers from the soup kitchen O Allos Anthropos (The Fellow Man) cook chicken with rice. In less than 20 minutes, 230 hot meals are delivered to people who waited more than an hour to get them. At the end of every month, it’s become a familiar sight outside banks: pensioners waiting in huge lines to collect their monthly checks. Few know how to use ATMs. While in line, they fret over how to make ends meet after years of cuts to their earnings, worrying about more austerity being planned. They won’t have long to wait till the next round of cuts. The government on Tuesday finalized its agreement with bailout lenders to ax pensions further, starting on January 1, 2019.

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Apr 252017
 
 April 25, 2017  Posted by at 7:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1972

 

Trump Slaps 20% Duty on Canada Lumber, Intensifying Trade Fight (BBG)
Trump Summons Entire Senate To White House Briefing On North Korea (G.)
Trump Advisers To Lay Out Tax Plan For Top Republicans Tuesday (BBG)
The Oil Market Has One Big Problem: People Aren’t Buying Enough Gas (CNBC)
Canadians’ Confidence In Housing Hits Record High (HPoC)
Housing’s Echo Bubble Now Exceeds the 2006-07 Bubble Peak (CHSmith)
Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble: Ultra-Low Mortgage Rates Are Dangerous (G.)
Rising Defaults In China Reveal Hidden Debt (BBG)
China Markets Reel as $1.7 Trillion in Shadow Funds Unwinds (BBG)
Naked Selfies Used As Collateral For Chinese Loans (AFP)
Italy Is the Euro-Area’s Swaps Loser Facing $9 Billion Bill (BBG)
Ontario To Pay Guaranteed Incomes To The Poor (AFP)
Kim Dotcom Wants FBI Director Comey Questioned By New Zealand Police (IBT)
At Least 16 Refugees Drown as Boat Sinks off Greece’s Lesbos (R.)

 

 

They’ve been doing this forever: “..the fight is the “longest-running battle since the Trojan War.”

Trump Slaps 20% Duty on Canada Lumber, Intensifying Trade Fight (BBG)

U.S. President Donald Trump intensified a trade dispute with Canada, slapping tariffs of up to 24% on imported softwood lumber in a move that drew swift criticism from the Canadian government, which vowed to sue if needed. Trump announced the new tariff at a White House gathering of conservative journalists, shortly before the Commerce Department said it would impose countervailing duties ranging from 3% to 24.1% on Canadian lumber producers including West Fraser Timber. “We’re going to be putting a 20% tax on softwood lumber coming in – tariff on softwood coming into the United States from Canada,” Trump said Monday, according to a tweet by Charlie Spiering at Breitbart News. A White House official confirmed the comment.

The step escalates an economic battle among neighboring countries that normally have one of the friendliest international relationships in the world. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross amplified Trump’s remarks in a statement afterward that also referenced a fight over a new Canadian milk policy that U.S. producers say violates Nafta. “It has been a bad week for U.S.-Canada trade relations,” Ross said, adding “it became apparent that Canada intends to effectively cut off the last dairy products being exported from the United States.” He said the Commerce Department “determined a need” because of unfair Canadian subsidies to the lumber industry to impose “countervailing duties of roughly one billion dollars.” In a dig at NAFTA, which Trump has said he wants to renegotiate, Ross added, “This is not our idea of a properly functioning Free Trade Agreement.”

[..] The so-called countervailing duties, which counter what the U.S. considers Canadian subsidies, came in below some analyst expectations. CIBC analyst Hamir Patel forecast the initial combined countervailing and anti-dumping duties could reach 45 to 55%, he said in an April 23 note. The U.S. may also apply anti-dumping duties if it determines Canadian firms are selling for below costs. That decision is expected in June. “It definitely could’ve been a heck of a lot worse,” Kevin Mason at ERA Forest Products Research said by phone. “I think a lot of people were bracing for a higher duty.”

[..] Most of the softwood in Canada is owned by provincial governments, which set prices to cut trees on their land, while in the U.S. it’s generally harvested from private property. The fees charged by Canadian governments are below market rates, creating an unfair advantage, U.S. producers say. Canada disputes that. Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. Trade Representative, said at his confirmation hearing last month that he views the lumber dispute as the top trade issue between the U.S. and Canada. Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told Lighthizer the fight is the “longest-running battle since the Trojan War.”

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Huffin’-and-a-puffin’.

Trump Summons Entire Senate To White House Briefing On North Korea (G.)

The entire US Senate will go to the White House on Wednesday to be briefed by senior administration officials about the brewing confrontation with North Korea. The unusual briefing underlines the urgency with which the Trump administration is treating the threat posed by Pyongyang’s continuing development of nuclear weapons and missile technology. It follows a lunch meeting Trump held with ambassadors from UN member states on the security council on Monday where he emphasised US resolve to stop North Korea’s progress. “The status quo in North Korea is unacceptable and the council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Trump said at the meeting. “North Korea is a big world problem, and it’s a problem we have to finally solve.”

On Friday the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is due to chair a security council foreign ministers’ meeting on the issue in New York, at which the state department said he would call once more for the full implementation of existing UN sanctions or new measures in the event of further nuclear or missile tests. “This meeting will give the security council the opportunity to discuss ways to maximise the impact of existing security council measures and to show their resolve to response further provocations with appropriate new measures,” said Mark Toner, state department spokesman. Senators are to be briefed by the defence secretary, James Mattis, and Tillerson on Wednesday. Such briefings for the entire senate are not unprecedented but it is very rare for them to take place in the White House, which does not have large secure facilities for such classified sessions as Congress.

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Not going to be easy. Trump’s too desperate to get a deal done.

Trump Advisers To Lay Out Tax Plan For Top Republicans Tuesday (BBG)

President Donald Trump will call for cutting taxes for individuals and lowering the corporate rate to 15% to fulfill a promise he made during his campaign, according to a White House official. The president on Wednesday plans to make public the broad outlines of what he wants to change in the tax code, though the details likely will be left until later negotiations among congressional leaders and officials from Treasury. Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will brief House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the leaders of congressional tax-writing committees – House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.

While Trump and Ryan broadly agree on sharply cutting individual income and corporate taxes, there are areas of disagreement between the two. On the campaign, Trump called for a corporate tax rate of 15%; Ryan wants 20%, and he has warned that cutting it an additional 5 percentage points could prevent the ultimate tax plan from being revenue neutral. Without Democratic support, a plan would have to be revenue neutral to meet the criteria set by lawmakers to make tax changes permanent. “I’m not sure he’s going to be able to get away with that,” Hatch told reporters Monday. “You can’t very well balance the budget that way.”

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Demand goes down because people have less money to spend. All the rest is humbug.

The Oil Market Has One Big Problem: People Aren’t Buying Enough Gas (CNBC)

Lackluster gasoline demand is once again raising concerns that the oil market won’t be able to escape the doldrums. Demand for U.S. gasoline has recovered since January, but remained below 2016 levels throughout much of this year. Now, analysts are worried weak consumption will cause gasoline stockpiles to keep building and eventually result in weaker crude oil demand and pricing. U.S. gasoline futures were down more than 1% on Monday, reflecting demand concerns as refiners emerge from the winter maintenance season and prepare to turn out more fuel. Meanwhile, U.S. crude settled 39 cents lower at $49.23, extending last week’s deep losses. “As gas prices drop, that creates an undertow for the entire crude oil market,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service.

Part of the problem is a tough comparison with extraordinarily low gasoline prices last year. The national average gasoline price on Monday was nearly 28 cents above last year’s level, according to GasBuddy.com. “I’m in the camp that says last year was a little bit of the anomaly,” Kloza said. “Gas was so cheap that we drove a little bit more almost capriciously. This year, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.” In a troubling sign, the nation’s gasoline station operators have reported at industry conferences that their sales are down 1.5 to 2% this year, according to Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. “When you hear retailers telling you that their demand is down you’ve got to be a believer,” he told CNBC. Lipow said he fears that trend will carry through for the balance of 2017. Demand is certain to rise as the summer driving season ramps up, but Lipow sees stockpiles remaining relatively high.

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Stark raving madness. A housing market that is rising at ‘only’ 9.5% per year is labeled ‘rational’.

Canadians’ Confidence In Housing Hits Record High (HPoC)

The experts are getting louder in their warnings that a housing bubble has formed in some parts of Canada, but Canadians don’t seem worried. In fact, confidence in the housing market hit a record high in the latest weekly Bloomberg-Nanos index — even as respondents turned negative on their own personal finances. The survey found 48.5% of Canadians expect house prices to rise in the next six months, the highest level recorded in the survey since 2008. Fewer than 11% expect to see house prices decrease. “Bullish sentiment on real estate in Canada continues to drive consumer confidence,” pollster Nik Nanos said in a statement. “Household expectations have improved by roughly 10% since the start of the year as the effects of the oil price shock have stabilized and the focus has moved toward rising property values,” Bloomberg economist Robert Lawrie said.

“In recent weeks, however, consumer sentiment regarding personal finances began drifting lower, with extended household balance sheets perhaps the next focus of concern for policymakers.” High debt levels are precisely why many market observers are growing concerned about Canada’s priciest housing markets, namely the Toronto and Vancouver regions. House prices in Toronto jumped 33% in March from a year earlier, to an average of $916,567. While Vancouver’s house prices have moderated over the past six months, they remain elevated, with the benchmark price at $919,300 in March.

National Bank of Canada, which co-publishes the Teranet house price index, warned recently that “irrational exuberance” may be setting into some Canadian housing markets, noting that more than half of Canada’s regional markets are seeing price growth above 10% annually. With mortgages ballooning, Canadian household debt has repeatedly hit record highs in recent years, and now stands at $1.67 of debt for every dollar of disposable income. Those elevated debt levels are the main reason one why the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), a Geneva-based “central bank of central banks,” warned recently that Canada has the second-highest risk of a financial crisis, behind only China.

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Essential and repeated here a 1000 times: “Bubbles have a habit of overshooting on the downside when they finally burst.”

Housing’s Echo Bubble Now Exceeds the 2006-07 Bubble Peak (CHSmith)

A funny thing often occurs after a mania-fueled asset bubble pops: an echo-bubble inflates a few years later, as monetary authorities and all the institutions that depend on rising asset valuations go all-in to reflate the crushed asset class. Take a quick look at the Case-Shiller Home Price Index charts for San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, OR. Each now exceeds its previous Housing Bubble #1 peak:

It seems housing bubbles take about 5 to 6 years to reach their bubble peaks, and about half that time to retrace much or all of the gains. Bubbles have a habit of overshooting on the downside when they finally burst. The Federal Reserve acted quickly in 2009-10 to re-inflate the housing bubble by lowering interest rates to near-zero and buying over $1 trillion of mortgage-backed securities. When bubbles are followed by echo-bubbles, the bursting of the second bubble tends to signal the end of the speculative cycle in that asset class. There is no fundamental reason why housing could not round-trip to levels below the 2011 post-bubble #1 trough.

Consider the fundamentals of China’s remarkable housing bubble. The consensus view is: sure, China’s housing prices could fall modestly, but since Chinese households buy homes with cash or large down payments, this decline won’t trigger a banking crisis like America’s housing bubble did in 2008. The problem isn’t a banking crisis; it’s a loss of household wealth, the reversal of the wealth effect and the decimation of local government budgets and the construction sector. China is uniquely dependent on housing and real estate development. This makes it uniquely vulnerable to any slowdown in construction and sales of new housing. About 15% of China’s GDP is housing-related. This is extraordinarily high. In the 2003-08 housing bubble, housing’s share of U.S. GDP barely cracked 5%. Of even greater concern, local governments in China depend on land development sales for roughly 2/3 of their revenues.

If you need some evidence that the echo-bubble in housing is global, take a look at this chart of Sweden’s housing bubble. Oops, did I say bubble? I meant “normal market in action.”

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“..we may be in the latter stages of a bubble. As prices rise further and further out of reach, lenders need to find more and more ingenious tricks to keep rich people pumping their cash into an overheated market. The punch bowl has to keep going round, or the party stops.”

Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble: Ultra-Low Mortgage Rates Are Dangerous (G.)

Between autumn 1977 and Christmas 1979, interest rates rose from 5% to 17%. If you were a young boomer whose biggest cost was a variable rate mortgage, that would have hurt. In 2009, by contrast, interest rates were cut to a record low of 0.5%, and stayed there for the better part of a decade. When eventually they did move again, it was down. You don’t know you’re born. Except, of course, you do – because, if you’re reading this and you’re under 40, there’s a pretty good chance you’re still stuck paying rent. Yes, interest rates are low; no, this is not particularly helpful. Even if you do have a mortgage, it’s probably a fixed rate one because, let’s be honest, those rates are going up again one day. But not, it seems, today. The Yorkshire Building Society has just launched a new mortgage that charges an interest rate of just 0.89%. “We are very pleased to offer borrowers the lowest mortgage rate ever available,” said a spokesman.

“The cost of funding has fallen in recent weeks and, as a financially strong building society with no external shareholders to satisfy, we have the ability to pass this on to borrowers.” (“We used to dream of mortgages at under 1%,” say the boomers.) So does that means that owning a home is now cheaper than it’s ever been? Well, no, of course not. For one thing, this isn’t a fixed rate deal. It’s actually a (bear with me on this) two-year-long discount of 3.85% to the standard variable rate (SVR) of 4.74%. That means it’s very, very unfixed indeed: a normal tracker mortgage moves in response to Bank of England rates; an SVR one moves in response to the lender’s whims. Accepting this mortgage means placing a bet that the Yorkshire Building Society will be nice to you. It also comes with an unusually high arrangement fee of £1,495, but this shouldn’t bother you, because you probably can’t get that rate anyway. To even be considered, you need a deposit worth 35% of the value of your home.

[..] But there’s another, more sinister, reading of the recent rash of ultra-low mortgage rates: it suggests we may be in the latter stages of a bubble. As prices rise further and further out of reach, lenders need to find more and more ingenious tricks to keep rich people pumping their cash into an overheated market. The punch bowl has to keep going round, or the party stops. But bubbles tend to burst. Prices can’t rise forever: one day, interest rates must surely rise. When the inevitable happens, there is a danger that those who took advantage of this deal may find their equity wiped out – and the rate they’re paying will shoot through the roof.

That would obviously be very sad for those who are affected; for those shut out of home ownership, though, it may be no bad thing. That’s because nine years of record-low interest rates have probably contributed to the fact that house prices have soared out of reach; and higher prices have meant increasingly unattainable deposits. A rise in interest rates could, paradoxically, make housing more affordable.

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Companies guaranteeing each other’s crappy debt. What could go wrong? Problem is, Beijing had let them do it for years.

Rising Defaults In China Reveal Hidden Debt (BBG)

Rising defaults in China are unearthing hidden debt at companies across the country. Small firms that can’t get loans by themselves have been winning banks over by getting other companies to guarantee their borrowings. The companies making those pledges exclude them from their balance sheets, leaving creditors in the dark. Borrowers often extend the guarantees for each other, raising the risk that failures could ricochet, at a time when increasing borrowing costs have already added to strains. China’s banking regulator has ordered checks of such cross-guaranteed loans, Caixin reported Friday. Scrutiny is mounting after a corn oil producer in the eastern province of Shandong said last month it had guaranteed debt of a neighboring aluminum product manufacturer which is now stuck in a cash crunch.

Just days before that, a local government financing vehicle in China’s southwest had to repay an auto parts maker’s loans it had guaranteed after the latter defaulted. “Disclosure of such guarantees isn’t timely,” said Qiu Xinhong at Shenzhen-based First State Cinda. “Sometimes, it’s like a buried mine and you don’t know when the risks will explode.” This debt minefield could be big. The amount of loan guarantees at privately held firms in China is equivalent to 11% of their equity, and at LGFVs is 18%, according to Citic Securities. The load is even heavier at weaker borrowers. About 44% of issuers rated lower than AA- have a ratio of more than 30%, according to Everbright Securities. The phenomenon is less common in the U.S. because banks don’t require such guarantees to offer loans, according to Fitch Ratings.

“If companies in the same region offer a huge amount of guarantees for each other’s debt, it would form a guarantee web and deepen interconnections among the companies,” said Gang Meng, director of rating at Golden Credit Rating International Co. in Beijing. “If one company has to repay debt for its guaranteed company, risks would quickly ripple to other companies in the web, which will result in a butterfly effect.” [..] Guarantors don’t mark the pledges on their balance sheets and often disclose them only on an annual basis. Such shadow debts pose rising risks after central bank tightening pushed up onshore corporate bond yields to two-year highs and defaults on local notes surged to a record.

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The distinction between state banks and shadows has become very murky.

China Markets Reel as $1.7 Trillion in Shadow Funds Unwinds (BBG)

A $1.7 trillion source of inflows into Chinese markets has suddenly switched into reverse, roiling the nation’s money management industry and sending local bonds and stocks to their biggest losses of the year. The turbulence has centered on so-called entrusted investments – funds that Chinese banks farm out to external asset managers. After years of funneling money into such investments, banks are now pulling back in response to a series of regulatory guidelines over the past three weeks that put a spotlight on the risks. Critics have blamed entrusted managers for adding leverage to China’s financial system and reducing transparency.

The banks’ withdrawals helped erase $315 billion of stock market value over the past six days and sent bond yields to the highest level in nearly two years, highlighting the challenge for Chinese authorities as they try to rein in shadow banking activity without destabilizing financial markets. While the government has plenty of firepower to prop up asset prices if it wants to, forecasters at Australia & New Zealand Banking predict the selloff will deepen this year. “We are seeing an exodus of funds,” said He Qian at HFT Investment Management, which oversaw about 189 billion yuan ($27.5 billion) as of last year. He was one of about half-a-dozen asset managers and analysts who said banks have started scaling back their entrusted investments.

The arrangements have become an important part of China’s shadow finance system. When banks sell wealth-management products – the ubiquitous savings vehicles that offer higher yields than deposits – the firms sometimes farm out client money to entrusted managers such as hedge funds and mutual funds. The managers invest the cash in bonds, stocks and other securities, hoping to generate enough income to cover the banks’ promised returns to WMP clients – plus some extra for themselves.

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You better look good than feel good.

Naked Selfies Used As Collateral For Chinese Loans (AFP)

Hundreds of photos and videos of naked women used as collateral for loans on a Chinese online lending service have leaked onto the web, highlighting regulatory problems in the fast-growing peer-to-peer marketplace. A 10-gigabyte file posted on the internet exposed the personal details of more than 160 young women who were asked to provide the explicit material to secure money through online lending platform Jiedaibao. Launched by JD Capital in 2015, Jiedaibao allows lenders to operate anonymously but requires borrowers to reveal their real names when making transactions. Loan amounts and interest rates can be customised to meet the needs of users – often people who have a hard time accessing loans through more traditional financial institutions, like banks.

Interest on the “nude loans” reached an astonishing 30% a week, according to the Global Times newspaper. Lenders told female borrowers that if they failed to repay the loans, their nude photos would be sent to their families and friends, whose information was also required for some transactions, the article said. Material in the file put on the web last Wednesday showed some borrowers also promised to repay loans with sexual favours, according to screen captures posted on social media websites. In a statement on its official Twitter-like Weibo account, Jiedaibao said it had tracked down the accounts of several borrowers through photos and ID information circulated online and had frozen the suspected lenders’ accounts. “The ‘nude loans’ deals were mainly initiated and completed offline, and Jiedaibao only played the role of a money transfer platform in the deals,” the statement said.

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Derivatives used this way are instruments of massive wealth destruction. Why use different rates for each side of the deal? “..the Italian Treasury “usually pays a flow anchored to a fixed rate, while receiving one indexed to the 6-month Euribor rate..”

Italy Is the Euro-Area’s Swaps Loser Facing $9 Billion Bill (BBG)

Derivatives burdened Italy’s public debt again last year for a record amount of €8.3 billion ($9 billion), making the country the biggest swaps loser in the euro region. Losses related to swaps held by the nation added €4.25 billion to the country’s debt while net liabilities’ burden totaled €4.07 billion, based on data released Monday by EU statistics office Eurostat. In the 2012-2016 period, the burden totaled €29.6 billion, also a euro-area record. Italy’s derivative-related losses and net liabilities were higher than those for the whole euro region combined both in 2016 and in the five-year period as some countries actually saw the swaps helping to alleviate their debts. Governments across the euro region have used derivatives to manage their debt-financing costs and to hedge against sudden changes in rates and excessive exchange-rate volatility.

Those deals have sometimes backfired with the effect of pushing nations’ debts even higher. In the existing interest-rate swaps the Italian Treasury “usually pays a flow anchored to a fixed rate, while receiving one indexed to the 6-month Euribor rate,” the government said earlier this month in an annex to its annual Economic and Financial Document. Since starting from November 2015, the Euribor stayed negative and the impact on the flow indexed to that rate was that the Treasury had to pay money to its counterparts, instead of being paid by them, the document also said. Italy’s public debt rose last year to €2.2 trillion, or 132.6% of the country’s GDP, Eurostat said in a separate report on Monday.

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it’s important to get it right.

Ontario To Pay Guaranteed Incomes To The Poor (AFP)

Ontario has launched a pilot program to provide a guaranteed basic income to a few thousand people to test its effects on recipients and public finances, the Canadian province announced on Monday. Provincial premier Kathleen Wynne said the program would provide a “basic income” for three years to 4,000 people living under the poverty line. “We want to find out whether a basic income makes a positive impact in people’s lives,” Ms Wynne said, adding that “everyone should benefit from Ontario’s economic growth.” Income support payments will be as high as Can$16,989 (£9,800) a year for an individual, or Can$24,027 for a couple, plus an additional Can$6,000 for the disabled.

The figures will be reduced for those holding part-time jobs – they will receive 50 cents less for each dollar earned. As a concrete example, a single person with a yearly salary of Can$10,000 will receive an additional payment of Can$11,989. The 4,000 participants, aged 18 to 65, have been chosen at random in three cities: Hamilton and Lindsay in the Toronto suburbs and Thunder Bay in the province’s west. The province estimates the cost of the program at Can$50 million a year. Ontario is the most heavily populated Canadian province, with 38% of the country’s 36.5 million inhabitants. 13% of Ontario residents live below the poverty line, according to Statistics Canada.

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What the FBI did has already been declared illegal in New Zealand courts.

Kim Dotcom Wants FBI Director Comey Questioned By New Zealand Police (IBT)

FBI Director James Comey is currently in New Zealand and if Kim Dotcom has his way, Comey could find himself being questioned by the New Zealand police. The internet entrepreneur, who is wanted by the United States on multiple charges including fraud and copyright infringement, filed a complaint with the police Tuesday against the FBI director for what Dotcom called theft of his data by the agency. The alleged theft happened when the police raided Dotcom’s home Jan. 20, 2012, as part of investigations instigated by the U.S. The charges against him are based on the now-defunct website Megaupload that he operated, where users could share content with each other.

Some of that content was illegal to share, but according to New Zealand laws, internet service providers are not held responsible for the actions of their users. In his complaint Tuesday, Dotcom’s lawyer urged the police to urgently question Comey, who is in New Zealand for a conference. The grounds for the complaint are that the FBI received copies of data that was taken from Dotcom’s home during the 2012 raid, an act which courts in the country have held to be illegal, according to the complaint.

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The value you put on someone else’s life inevitably becomes the value of your own life.

At Least 16 Refugees Drown as Boat Sinks off Greece’s Lesbos (R.)

At least 16 people, including two children, drowned after an inflatable boat carrying refugees and migrants sank off Greece’s Lesbos island, authorities said on Monday. They are believed to be the first confirmed deaths in Greek waters this year of migrants or refugees making the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey on overcrowded rubber dinghies. Nine bodies were recovered in Greek territory and another seven in Turkish waters, Greek and Turkish coastguard officials said. Two survivors have been rescued. The two women, one of whom is pregnant, told the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR that 20 to 25 people were on board when the dinghy capsized around 1900 GMT on Sunday. The women are from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Though fewer than 10 nautical miles separate Lesbos from Turkish shores, hundreds of people have drowned trying to make the crossing since Europe’s refugee crisis began in 2015. In that year, Lesbos was the main gateway into the European Union for nearly a million Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans. But a deal in March 2016 between the EU and Ankara has largely closed that route. Just over 4,800 people have crossed to Greece from Turkey this year, according to UNHCR data. An average of 20 arrive on Greek islands each day. “The number of people crossing the Aegean to Greece has dropped drastically over the past year, but this tragic incident shows that the dangers and the risk of losing one’s life remains very real,” said Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Greece representative.

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 April 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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How we got here

 

Disintegrating Left-Right Divide Sets Stage For French Political Upheaval (G.)
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty (CP)
ECB Stands Ready to Support Banks If Needed After France Vote (BBG)
It Is Time To Break Up The Fed (IFT)
China’s Credit Excess Is Unlike Anything The World Has Ever Seen (Brown)
The US Retail Bubble Has Now Burst (ZH)
UK Retail Sales Volumes Fall At Fastest Rate In Seven Years (Ind.)
BHS Crash Sets Trend For A Chain Of Store Closures On UK High Streets (G.)
German Intelligence Spied On Interpol In Dozens Of Countries (R.)
Pope Likens Refugee Holding Centers To ‘Concentration Camps’ (G.)

 

 

This is a global issue, the left has moved so far right it has no identity left. Nice detail: The Parti Socialiste of the current president could be bankrupted by its dismal campaign.

Disintegrating Left-Right Divide Sets Stage For French Political Upheaval (G.)

Do they vote for or against? Do they choose a candidate who represents their politics or one who, opinion polls suggest, is most likely to defeat the woman whose presence as one of two candidates in the second-round runoff in a fortnight seems a given, but whose name still provokes a frisson of fear for many: the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, with her anti-Europe, anti-immigration, “French-first” programme? As election day has approached, and with the added complication of the terrorist threat following the shooting of a police officer on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, the dilemma has caused particular anguish for France’s mainstream leftwing voters, whose candidate is trailing in fifth place.

There are no certainties, but barring all other candidates “dropping from a nasty virus”, as one political analyst put it, Benoît Hamon is facing a crushing defeat in the first round, ending his leadership dreams and putting the future of the country’s Socialist party (PS) in question. In a decline that mirrors that of Britain’s Labour party, the PS is facing years in a political desert, if it survives. If Hamon finishes last among the leading candidates, as polls predict, the party’s only hope of salvaging a thread of power will lie in winning enough parliamentary seats in the legislative elections that follow to form an influential group in the national assembly. Even then it will most likely be part of a coalition rather than a fully functioning opposition.

Even worse, and even more unthinkable, if leftwing voters turn en masse to Jean-Luc Mélenchon as their best hope of a place in the second round against the frontrunners – independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen or the conservative François Fillon – and Hamon polls less than 5%, none of Hamon’s campaign expenses will be reimbursed, bankrupting the PS. “Under 5% and the situation is really catastrophic,” Marc-Olivier Padis, of the Paris-based thinktank Terra Nova, told the Observer. “And it’s possible. We are hearing many socialists wondering if they should vote Mélenchon or Macron. The only thing that can save the party in this election is if enough socialists vote for Hamon out of loyalty.”

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It’s about the economy, guys. Too many people are left with too little. That’s when they choose to be their own boss -again-.

The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty (CP)

The 2017 French Presidential election marks a profound change in European political alignments. There is an ongoing shift from the traditional left-right rivalry to opposition between globalization, in the form of the European Union (EU), and national sovereignty. Standard media treatment sticks to a simple left-right dualism: “racist” rejection of immigrants is the main issue and that what matters most is to “stop Marine Le Pen!” Going from there to here is like walking through Alice’s looking glass. Almost everything is turned around. On this side of the glass, the left has turned into the right and part of the right is turning into the left. Fifty years ago, it was “the left” whose most ardent cause was passionate support for Third World national liberation struggles.

The left’s heroes were Ahmed Ben Bella, Sukarno, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, and above all Ho Chi Minh. What were these leaders fighting for? They were fighting to liberate their countries from Western imperialism. They were fighting for independence, for the right to determine their own way of life, preserve their own customs, decide their own future. They were fighting for national sovereignty, and the left supported that struggle. Today, it is all turned around. “Sovereignty” has become a bad word in the mainstream left. National sovereignty is an essentially defensive concept. It is about staying home and minding one’s own business. It is the opposite of the aggressive nationalism that inspired fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to conquer other countries, depriving them of their national sovereignty.

The confusion is due to the fact that most of what calls itself “the left” in the West has been totally won over to the current form of imperialism – aka “globalization”. It is an imperialism of a new type, centered on the use of military force and “soft” power to enable transnational finance to penetrate every corner of the earth and thus to reshape all societies in the endless quest for profitable return on capital investment. The left has been won over to this new imperialism because it advances under the banner of “human rights” and “antiracism” – abstractions which a whole generation has been indoctrinated to consider the central, if not the only, political issues of our times.

The fact that “sovereignism” is growing in Europe is interpreted by mainstream globalist media as proof that “Europe is moving to the right”– no doubt because Europeans are “racist”. This interpretation is biased and dangerous. People in more and more European nations are calling for national sovereignty precisely because they have lost it. They lost it to the European Union, and they want it back. That is why the British voted to leave the European Union. Not because they are “racist”, but primarily because they cherish their historic tradition of self-rule.

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French government debt could become ineligible as collateral if Le Pen and/or Melenchon do too well.

ECB Stands Ready to Support Banks If Needed After France Vote (BBG)

ECB officials signaled that their liquidity facilities remain available to counter any market tension that may arise in the aftermath of France’s presidential election, the first round of which takes place Sunday. “The central bank should be ready for any shocks that should materialize,” Governing Council member Ignazio Visco said at a press conference during the IMF spring meetings in Washington on Saturday. “And if there were to be such a shock, the instruments are the instruments that a central bank should use, which are liquidity provision, refinancing when needed. And intervening very quickly is really very easy now given the instruments we have.” Like the U.K.’s vote on whether to continue its membership of the EU in June, central bank readiness to support the banking system has been sought given the potential for such political events to create market turmoil.

In this case, a strong showing in the first round by anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen could cast doubt over the future of the single currency. Visco argued that the presence of central bank facilities makes it less likely they’ll actually be needed. [..] The euro area has years of experience with banking freeze-ups and has multiple instruments to address liquidity shortages that strike otherwise solvent banks. In particular, in the event a sudden credit-rating downgrade made French government debt ineligible as collateral for normal ECB refinancing operations, so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance may be available from the Bank of France. “If there should be problems for specific French banks, liquidity-wise, then the ECB has instruments to help solvent banks with liquidity problems,” Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said on Saturday. “This is ELA, emergency liquidity assistance. That could be given of course. But we don’t expect any special movements.”

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“Donald Trump and the GOP need an easy, highly visible legislative victory. Breaking up the Fed meets this criteria.”

It Is Time To Break Up The Fed (IFT)

Donald Trump and the GOP need an easy, highly visible legislative victory. Breaking up the Fed meets this criteria. In the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis, policymakers rushed out the Dodd-Frank Act. This Act increased the Fed’s responsibilities. However, policymakers did this without examining the Fed’s performance in the run-up to the financial crisis. Had they done so, they would have seen the Fed failed as a bank supervisor and regulator. This failure alone mandates breaking up the Fed. After all, why should the Fed be given a second chance given how much its failure hurt the global real economy and taxpayers? Furthermore, this failure strongly suggests policymakers shouldn’t have rewarded the Fed with additional responsibilities. After all, there is no reason to believe the Fed’s failure as a bank supervisor and regulator won’t be repeated with any new responsibilities.

To the extent these new responsibilities exist in the Dodd-Frank Act, they too should be stripped away. What the Fed should be left with is responsibility for monetary policy and the payment system. All of the Fed’s bank supervision and regulatory responsibility should be transferred to the FDIC. There are many significant benefits from doing this including it reinforces market discipline on the banks. Unlike the Fed, the FDIC is responsible for protecting the taxpayers and has the authority to close a bank. The FDIC’s primary responsibility is minimizing the risk of loss by the taxpayer backed deposit insurance fund. It achieves this initially through regulation and supervision, but more importantly by a willingness to step in and close a bank that threatens to cause a loss to the fund.

Shareholders and unsecured bank creditors are keenly aware they are likely to lose their entire investment should the FDIC step up and close the bank they are invested in. As a result, they have an incentive to exert discipline on bank management to limit its risk taking so the bank is never taken over by the FDIC. For those who would argue that it is important to keep bank supervision and regulation together with monetary policy, I would point out there is no evidence showing this produces a better outcome. In the run-up to the Great Financial Crisis, the Bank of England and the ECB did not have supervision and regulation responsibility. The Fed did. Talk about a perfect controlled experiment.

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China needs more than $13 to create $1 of growth.

China’s Credit Excess Is Unlike Anything The World Has Ever Seen (Brown)

From a global macroeconomic perspective, we encourage readers to consider that the world is experiencing an extended, rolling process of deflating its credit excesses. It is now simply China’s turn. For context, Japan started deflating their credit bubble in the early 1990s, and has now experienced more than 20 years of deflation and very little growth since. The US began its process in 2008, and after eight years has only recently been showing signs of sustainable recovery. The euro zone entered this process in 2011 and is still struggling six years onward. We believe China is now entering the early stages of this process. Having said that, we believe that Chinese authorities have a viable plan for deflating their credit excess in an orderly fashion.

Please stay posted as we will review this multi-pronged, market-based approach in our next column. For now, let’s turn our attention to the size of the credit excess that China created and why we estimate it to be the largest in the world. A credit excess is created by the speed and magnitude of credit that is created – if too much is created in too short a time period, excesses inevitably occur and non-performing loans (NPLs) emerge. To illustrate the credit excess that has been created in China, let’s review several key indicators, including the: 1) flow of new credit; 2) stock of outstanding credit; 3) credit deviation ratio (i.e., excess credit); 4) incremental capital output ratio (efficiency of credit allocation).

The US created 58% of GDP between 2002-07, and the global financial crisis followed. Japan created credit equivalent to the entire size of its economy between 1985-90 and subsequently experienced more than 20 years of deflation (admittedly reflecting the lack of restructuring). Thailand created a significant real estate bubble between 1992-97 and ended up with about 45% NPL ratios. Spain created credit equivalent to 116% of GDP between 2002-07 and still is trying to address a 20% unemployment rate. China created 139% of GDP in new credit between the first quarter of 2009 and the third quarter of 2014 (when GDP growth peaked), far greater than what was created in other major credit bubbles globally.

[..] Another important measure to assess the amount of credit in the economy which is “excessive” is the credit-to-GDP gap, as reported by the Bank of International Settlements. This ratio measures the difference between the current credit-to-GDP ratio in an economy against its long-term trend of what is necessary to optimally support long-term GDP growth. It is akin to measuring the amount of credit that is productively deployed into an economy. This metric is used by the Basel III framework in determining countercyclical capital buffers for a country’s banking system when credit creation becomes too fast (i.e., high credit growth requires higher capital ratios for banks).

Finally, to show that the pace of credit creation will necessarily slow, thereby exposing misallocated credit and driving the emergence of new NPL formation, we turn to the deterioration in China’s incremental capital output ratio. This ratio is the measure of the number of units of input required to produce one unit of GDP. For the 15 years prior to the credit impulse in 2009-14, China’s incremental capital output ratio has been consistently between two and four. Meaning that two to four yuan in fixed asset investment created one yuan in GDP. But as a result of the credit-driven economic growth model, and the excessive credit that has been created (and the subsequent excess capacity in the industrial economy), China’s investment efficiency has deteriorated to the point that its incremental capital output ratio is now over 13. Said another way, every 1 yuan in new fixed asset investment is now creating only 7 fen in GDP.

Read more …

Full employment, anyone?

The US Retail Bubble Has Now Burst (ZH)

The devastation in the US retail sector is accelerating in 2017, and in addition to the surging number of brick and mortar retail bankruptcies, it is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in the soaring number of store closures. While the shuttering of retail stores has been a frequent topic on this website, most recently in the context of the next “big short”, namely the ongoing deterioration in the mall REITs and associated Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities and CDS, here is a stunning fact from Credit Suisse:”Barely a quarter into 2017, year-to-date retail store closings have already surpassed those of 2008.”

According to the Swiss bank’s calculations, on a unit basis, approximately 2,880 store closings were announced YTD, more than twice as many closings as the 1,153 announced during the same period last year. Historically, roughly 60% of store closure announcements occur in the first five months of the year. By extrapolating the year-to-date announcements, CS estimates that there could be more than 8,640 store closings this year, which will be higher than the historical 2008 peak of approximately 6,200 store closings, which suggests that for brick-and-mortar stores stores the current transition period is far worse than the depth of the credit crisis depression.

As the WSJ calculates, at least 10 retailers, including Limited Stores, electronics chain hhgregg and sporting-goods chain Gander Mountain have filed for bankruptcy protection so far this year. That compares with nine retailers that declared bankruptcy, with at least $50 million liabilities, for all of 2016. On Friday, women’s apparel chain Bebe Stores said it would close its remaining 170 shops and sell only online, while teen retailer Rue21 Inc. announced plans to close about 400 of its 1,100 locations. Another striking fact: on a square footage basis, approximately 49 million square feet of retail space has closed YTD. Should this pace persist by the end of the year, total square footage reductions could reach 147M square feet, another all time high, and surpassing the historical peak of 115M in 2001.

There are several key drivers behind the avalanche of “liquidation” signs on store fronts. The first is the glut of residual excess retail space. As the WSJ writes, the seeds of the industry’s current turmoil date back nearly three decades, when retailers, in the throes of a consumer-buying spree and flush with easy money, rushed to open new stores. The land grab wasn’t unlike the housing boom that was also under way at that time. “Thousands of new doors opened and rents soared,” Richard Hayne, chief executive of Urban Outfitters Inc., told analysts last month. “This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst.”

Read more …

No matter how you try to explain it away, in the end it’s just people having less to spend.

UK Retail Sales Volumes Fall At Fastest Rate In Seven Years (Ind.)

Retail sale volumes slumped in March, seeming to confirm doubts about the robustness of the consumer-led economy in the wake of last summer’s Brexit vote. According to the Office for National Statistics, sales were down 1.8% in the month, against City expectations of a 0.2% decline. The monthly data can be volatile and March’s decline follows a 1.7% spike in February, but the ONS itself highlighted the weakening trend this year and noted that over the three months to March there was the first quarterly decline in volumes since 2013. In the first quarter of 2017 sales were down 1.4%, the biggest decline since the first three months of 2010 when they fell 2%.

Retail sales performed much better than expected in the immediate wake of last June’s Brexit vote, helping to boost overall GDP growth and confounding widespread expectations that the economy would fall into recession. But economists said the latest data suggested gravity was now asserting itself as inflation, stemming from the sharp depreciation of the pound since last June, eats into incomes and wage growth remains chronically weak. “We should see these retail sales figures as the start of a period of much weaker consumer spending growth – which will act as a drag on the overall progress of the UK economy over this year and next,” said Andrew Sentance, senior economic adviser at PwC.

“This is the clearest indication yet that the expected slowdown in the UK economy has begun, and we should expect to see this confirmed in other economic data over the next few months.” James Knightley, an economist at ING described the figures as “dreadful”. “The story for the household sector isn’t great right now. Inflation is eating into household spending power with wages once again failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living. There is also a growing sense of job insecurity highlighted in some surveys, which may also be making households a little nervous,” he said. The household saving ratio, the gap between the sector’s aggregate income and spending, fell to just 3.3% in the final quarter of 2016, the weakest on record, prompting questions about the sustainability of the rate of consumer spending. Retail sales account for around 30% of household consumption, which in turn accounts for 60% of UK GDP.

Read more …

“..1.5 million people work in low-paid UK retail jobs..” They can’t afford the products they sell. Henry Ford had a solution to that.

BHS Crash Sets Trend For A Chain Of Store Closures On UK High Streets (G.)

The fact that Britain’s unemployment rate has fallen to its joint lowest level since 1975 belies the experience of thousands of BHS staff, who have struggled to find an equivalent job with a contract and regular hours. The jobless rate may be just 4.7% but official records show the number of people on zero-hours contracts hit a record high of 905,000 in the final three months of 2016. That was an increase of 101,000, or 13%, compared with the same period a year earlier. Last year, research by industry trade body the British Retail Consortium (BRC) identified a “lost generation” of predominantly female shop workers who – as thousands of BHS staff would find out – risk losing their jobs as structural change chews up the high street. It estimated there were nearly 500,000 retail workers, aged between 26 and 45, many of whom have children and need to work close to their family home, who would find it hard to find alternative jobs.

Using the benchmark of those earning less than £8.05 an hour, the BRC says 1.5 million people work in low-paid UK retail jobs. About 70% are female and one in five receive means-tested working age tax credits. Norman Pickavance, chair of the Fabian Society taskforce on the future of retail, says the majority of companies in the sector are trying to save money by moving towards less secure employment models. “There are more and more zero-hours-type contracts and self employment,” he says. “A year on from the demise of BHS, most retailers are continuing down that route of flexibility but there is a risk to them from Brexit. They have only been able to use these methods because of the abundance of labour and might have to rethink.”

[..] This trend is writ larger in the US, where analysts are talking about a “retail apocalypse”, as main street veterans like Macy’s and Sears line up to announce major store closure programmes. With American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch and JCPenney also axing stores, hundreds of American shopping mall outlets are closing for good. The cost in job terms has been stark, with more than 89,000 retail positions eliminated over the last six months. New York-based Global Data analyst Neil Saunders says the US and UK retail markets are not mirror images, with the American woes resulting from the fallout from a belated move by store chiefs to address the threat posed by the internet.

With more than five times more retail square footage per person than the UK, American store chiefs have also got a bigger problem on their hands than their British counterparts. “In terms of online penetration, the US is where the UK was five or so years ago,” continues Saunders. “What we are seeing is large US retailers scrabbling to adjust.” He adds: “Generally, UK retail is at a much later evolutionary stage than the US. There has already been quite a lot of adjustment in terms of the closure and adaptation of physical space.

Read more …

Everyone spies on everyone. Growth industry.

German Intelligence Spied On Interpol In Dozens Of Countries (R.)

Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency spied on the Interpol international police agency for years and on the group’s country liaison offices in dozens of countries such as Austria, Greece and the United States, a German magazine said. Der Spiegel magazine, citing documents it had seen, said the BND had added the email addresses, phone numbers and fax numbers of the police investigators to its sector surveillance list. In addition, the German spy agency also monitored the Europol police agency Europol which is based in The Hague, the magazine said. Der Spiegel reported in February that the BND also spied on the phones, faxes and emails of several news organizations, including the New York Times and Reuters.

The BND’s activities have come under intense scrutiny during a German parliamentary investigation into allegations that the US National Security Agency conducted mass surveillance outside of the United States, including a cellphone used by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Konstantin von Notz, a Greens party member who serves on the investigative committee, described the latest report about the BND’s spying activities as “scandalous and unfathomable.” “We now know that parliaments, various companies and even journalists and publishers have been targeted, as well as allied countries,” von Notz said in a statement. He said the latest reports showed how ineffective parliamentary controls had been thus far, despite new legislation aimed at reforming the BND. “It represents a danger to our rule of law,” he said.

Read more …

So what as the Pope done to alleviate the issue? How has he used the Vatican’s opulent riches to make life better for refugees?

Pope Likens Refugee Holding Centers To ‘Concentration Camps’ (G.)

Pope Francis urged governments on Saturday to get migrants and refugees out of holding centers, saying many had become “concentration camps”. During a visit to a Rome basilica, where he met migrants, Francis told of his visit to a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year. There he met a Muslim refugee from the Middle East who told him how “terrorists came to our country”. Islamists had slit the throat of the man’s Christian wife because she refused to throw her crucifix the ground. “I don’t know if he managed to leave that concentration camp, because refugee camps, many of them, are of concentration (type) because of the great number of people left there inside them,” the pope said.

Francis praised countries helping refugees and thanked them for “bearing this extra burden, because it seems that international accords are more important than human rights”. He did not elaborate but appeared to be referring to agreements that keep migrants from crossing borders. In February, the European Union pledged to finance migrant camps in Libya as part of a wider European Union drive to stem immigration from Africa. Humanitarian groups have criticized efforts to stop migrants in Libya, where – according to a U.N. report last December – they suffer arbitrary detention, forced labor, rape and torture.

Read more …

Apr 212017
 
 April 21, 2017  Posted by at 6:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Giotto Legend of St Francis, Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo c.1297-1299

 

You are not an investor. One can only be an investor in functioning markets. There have been no functioning markets since at least 2008, and probably much longer. That’s when central banks started purchasing financial assets, for real, which means that is also the point when price discovery died. And without price discovery no market can function.

You are therefore not an investor. Perhaps you are a cheat, perhaps you are a chump, but you are not an investor. If we continue to use terms like ‘investor’ and ‘markets’ for what we see today, we would need to invent new terms for what these words once meant. Because they surely are not the same thing. Even as there are plenty people who would like you to believe they are, because it serves their purposes.

Central banks have become bubble machines, and that is the only function they have left. You could perhaps get away with saying that the dot-com bubble, maybe even the US housing bubble, were not created by central banks, but you can’t do that for the everything bubble of today.

The central banks blow their bubbles in order to allow banks and other financial institutions to first of all not crumble, and second of all even make sizeable profits. They have two instruments to blow their bubbles with, which are used in tandem.

The first one is asset purchases, which props up the prices for these assets, through artificial demand. The second is (ultra-) low interest rates, which allows for more parties -that is, you and mom and pop- to buy more assets, another form of artificial demand.

The most important central bank-created bubble is in housing, if only because it facilitates bubbles in stocks and bonds. Home prices in many places in the world have grown much higher than either economic growth or homebuyers’ wages justify.

In many instances they have even caused a feeding frenzy, where people are so desperate to either have a place to live or not miss out on profits that they’ll pay any price, provided rates are low enough for them to get a loan approved.

As I said a few weeks ago in Our Economies Run on Housing Bubbles, the housing bubbles created in this way are essential in keeping our economies going, because it is through mortgages -loans in general- that money is created in these economies.

If this money creation machine would stop, so would the economies. Home prices would come down to more realistic levels, but there still wouldn’t be anyone to buy them, so they would sink further. That, too, is called price discovery. For which there is a bitter and urgent need.

The Fed is an outlier in the central bank system, in that it no longer buys up too many assets. But other central banks have duly taken over. Indeed, Tyler Durden observes today via Bank of America that BoJ and ECB have bought more assets so far in 2017 than central banks ever have before. One may wonder at what point the term ‘asset’ will lose its rightful meaning to the same extent that ‘investor’ and ‘markets’ have:

A quick, if familiar, observation to start the day courtesy of Bank of America which in the latest overnight note from Michael Hartnett notes that central banks (ECB & BoJ) have bought $1 trillion of financial assets just in the first four months of 2017, which amounts to $3.6 trillion annualized, “the largest CB buying on record.” As Hartnett notes, the “Liquidity Supernova is the best explanation why global stocks & bonds both annualizing double-digit gains YTD despite Trump, Le Pen, China, macro…”

A recent graph from Citi and Haver illustrated it this way:

 

 

Note the rise in central bank balance sheets before 2008. There’s nothing innocent about it.

As an aside, I like this variation from the Twitter account of “Rudy Havenstein”, which came with the comment:

Here is a chart of the well being of the American middle-class and poor over the same period.

 

 

The Fed tries to become even more of an outlier among central banks, or at least it seems to discuss ways of doing this. Now, I don’t know what is more stunning, the fact that they go about it the way they do, or the lack of anger and bewilderment that emanates from the press and other voices -nobody has a clue what a central bank should be doing-, but the following certainly is ‘something’:

Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players

Federal Reserve staff, widening their outreach to investors in anticipation of a critical turning point in monetary policy, are seeking bond fund manager feedback on how the central bank should tailor and communicate its exit from record holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. Fed officials are intent on shrinking their crisis-era $4.48 trillion balance sheet in a way that isn’t disruptive and doesn’t usurp the federal funds rate as the main policy tool. To do that, they need to find the right communication and assess market expectations on the size of shrinkage, which is why conversations with fund managers have picked up recently. “All indications suggest that conversations around the balance sheet have accelerated,” said Carl Tannenbaum at Northern Trust Company. “The consideration of everything from design of the program to communication seems to have intensified.”

Most U.S. central bankers agreed that they would begin phasing out their reinvestment of maturing Treasury and MBS securities in their portfolio “later this year,” according to minutes of the March meeting. They also agreed the strategy should be “gradual and predictable,” according to the minutes. Fed staff routinely seek feedback from investors and bond dealers to get a fix on sentiment and expectations. The New York Fed confirmed the discussions and said it is part of regular market monitoring. The Fed is getting closer to disclosing its plan, and conversations have become more intense. “They are gauging what’s the extent of weak hands in the market that will dump these assets,” said Ed Al-Hussainy, a senior analyst on the Columbia Threadneedle Investment’s global rates and currency team. “They are calling all the asset managers. It is not part of the regular survey.

The Fed-created bubbles in stocks, bonds, housing, what have you, have propped up these ‘market players’, which wouldn’t even be ‘market players’ anymore if they hadn’t. That would have made for a much saner world. These people are not ‘investors’ any more either, by the way, and they’re not the chumps either; they are the cheats, the profiteers. At your expense.

Now, with the new capital they have, courtesy of the Fed and other central banks only, certainly not their own intelligence or timing or knowledge, they get calls from Yellen and other Fed people about what the Fed can do for them this time. Yellen et al are afraid that if the Fed starts selling, the so-called ‘market players’ will too. Of course they will.

The bubble created by artificial demand cannot be allowed to burst all at once, it has to be done “gradual and predictable.” As if that is possible, as if the Fed controls the bursting of bubbles it has itself created. And Yellen is not going to call you or me, she could not care less; she’s going the call the pigs she fattened up most. The Fed is more than anything a bunch of academics, seduced exclusively by textbook theories that are shaky at best, to transfer wealth to the most sociopathic and hence seductive financial predators, at everyone else’s expense.

And that expense is humongous. At the same time that the Fed and the rest of the world’s central banks fattened their balance sheets as seen in the graph above, this is what happened to US debt vs GDP:

 

 

The Fed bubbles, intended to keep market players whole, are blown at the expense of the real economy. Imagine if all those $20 trillion and counting in central banks’ bubble blowing would have been used to prop up Main Street instead of Wall Street; everybody would have been better off except for the ‘investors’ who are not even real investors.

The problem is, the Fed has no control over its own bubbles. It may or may not devise ways to ‘deflate’ its balance sheet, but the bubbles that balance sheet gave birth to cannot be deflated in the same way. If the Fed did have ‘bubble control’, it would have chosen to keep both the stock markets (S&P) and housing prices at a much lower level, with only a gradual increase. That would have given the impression that things were still doing sort of fine, without adding the risk -make that certainty- that the while shebang would blow up. But once’s the genie’s out of the bubble…

The academics must have missed that part. In the end the Fed works for banks and affiliated ‘industries’, not for people. Even -or especially- those people that like to think of themselves as ‘investors’. Today, in the process, America’s central bank is actively destroying American people. And while the Fed’s operatives may know this or not, the people certainly don’t. They think they’re making fat profits in either stocks or housing. And they are the lucky ones; most Americans are simply drowning.

A great representation of all that’s wrong in this comes courtesy of this Lance Roberts graph. A chilling illustration of the price you pay for setting S&P records.

 

 

These days, every rising asset price, every single bubble, comes at the expense of enormous increases in debt. And there are still people who wish to claim that this is not a bubble. That it is OK to get into deep debt to purchase a home, or stocks, with leverage: can’t miss out on those rates! And sure, that is still true in theory; all you have to do is get out in time. If only the Fed can get out in time, if only you can get out in time.

‘Getting out in time’ is bubble territory by definition. It’s not investing. Investing is buying an interest in something that you expect to do well, something that you think may be successful in benefiting society in such a way that people will want to own part of it. As I write down these words, I can’t help thinking of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, simply because it is so obvious but already feels so outdated.

I’m thinking also of Uber and Airbnb and Tesla and so many other ‘innovative’ ideas. All seemingly thriving but only because there’s so much excess cash sloshing around courtesy of Bernanke and Yellen and Draghi, looking for a next bubble to ‘invest’ in. Ideas that apparently have no trouble raising another $1 billion or $10 billion ‘investment’, in the same way that the Tulip Bubble had no such trouble, or the South Sea or Dot.Com ones.

Good luck with all that, but you’ve been warned, you’re hereby on notice. The odds that you’ll be able to ‘get out in time’ are vanishingly small. And even if you do, most others just like you won’t. And neither will the Fed academics. They have the most so-called ‘money’ at their disposal, and the least sense of what to do with it. But they have their advisers in the private banking industry to tell them all about where to put it: in one bubble or another; anywhere but the real economy.

Have I mentioned yet that all these start-ups and other bubbles are being launched into a rapidly shinking economy? Or you don’t think it is shrinking? Look, there would be no need for the Fed to blow bubbles if the economy were doing fine. And if so, they wouldn’t. Even academics have an innate sense for risk overdose.

C’mon, you’re not an investor. And perhaps you won’t even end up a loser, though the odds on that are slim, but one thing’s for sure. You are a character in an epic poem about losers.

 

 

Apr 092017
 
 April 9, 2017  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Paul Gauguin Avenue de Clichy 1889

 

Central Banks “Took Over” Markets In 2009; In December “Unwind” Begins (ZH)
‘No Bubble, No Pop’: Why Banks Are As Safe As Houses (WAus)
Greek Gloom As Economy Stalls Amid Latest Bout Of EU Wrangling (G.)
The Picture Of Our Economy Looks A Lot Like A Rorschach Test (NYT)
Steve Keen And Michael Hudson: Fixing The Economy (EI)
Trump’s ‘Wag the Dog’ Moment (Robert Parry)
Former DIA Colonel: “US Strikes On Syria Based On A Lie” (IntelT)
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard On Syria (Fox)
How Marine Le Pen Could Win (Pol.)
Privacy Experts Say CIA Left Americans Open To Cyber Attacks (IBT)
Rising Waters Threaten China’s Rising Cities (NYT)

 

 

“What do credit traders look at when they mark their books? Well, these days it is fair to say that they have more than one eye on the equity market.”

Central Banks “Took Over” Markets In 2009; In December “Unwind” Begins (ZH)

Citigroup’s crack trio of credit analysts, Matt King, Stephen Antczak, and Hans Lorenzen, best known for their relentless, Austrian, at times “Zero Hedge-esque” attacks on the Fed, and persistent accusations central banks distort markets, all summarized best in the following Citi chart… have come out of hibernation, to dicuss what comes next for various asset classes in the context of the upcoming paradigm shift in central bank posture. In a note released by the group’s credit team on March 27, Lorenzen writes that credit’s “infatuation with equities is coming to an end.” “What do credit traders look at when they mark their books? Well, these days it is fair to say that they have more than one eye on the equity market.”

Understandable: after all, as the FOMC Minutes revealed last week, even the Fed now openly admits its policy is directly in response to stock prices. As the credit economist points out, “statistically, over the last couple of years both markets have been influencing (“Granger causing”) each other. But considering the relative size, depth and liquidity of (not to mention the resources dedicated to) the equity market, we’d argue that more often than not, the asset class taking the passenger seat is credit. Yet the relationship was not always so cosy. Over the long run, the correlation in recent years is actually unusual. In the two decades before the Great Financial Crisis, three-month correlations between US credit returns and the S&P 500 returns tended to oscillate sharply and only barely managed to stay positive over the long run..

Rudolf E. [email protected]
Replying to @zerohedge
Here is a chart of the well being of the American middle-class and poor over the same period.

Read more …

“Tell a European you think there’s a housing bubble and you’ll have a reasonable discussion,” Grantham said. “Tell an Australian and you’ll have World War III…”

‘No Bubble, No Pop’: Why Banks Are As Safe As Houses (WAus)

The housing sector is therefore picking up the slack, and as far as the Westpac chair can discern the underlying demand is real. “That’s why I believe there is no bubble — there is huge demand from local and offshore buyers,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not looking at things like the capacity to pay interest and repay principal, so we don’t have any issues with the measures announced (on March 31). “APRA has its mandate; we have ours. But we have no interest in lending to people who can’t repay.” That’s the reasoned analysis from Norris and Maxsted, and Henry mostly concurs. If you’re after the full Catherine wheel experience, try taking the alternative position as a market-leading fund manager or economist and warning the public about an inflating property bubble. Legendary US investor Jeremy Grantham did just that, vowing in 2012 he would never do it again. “Tell a European you think there’s a housing bubble and you’ll have a reasonable discussion,” Grantham said. “Tell an Australian and you’ll have World War III. Been there, done that!”

Local economist Steve Keen entered the fray in 2009, likening the experience to “having my genitals cut off”, while hedge fund managers have lost so much money short-selling Australian banks because they expected the bubble to pop that it’s been called the “widow maker’s” trade. True to his word, Grantham failed to respond to an email inviting him to trigger World War III. Keen, who has relocated to Britain but was in Australia this week, has no such hesitation, saying it is abundantly clear that we’re in a debt-fuelled housing bubble that has only a year or two to run before it pops. “We’re in hock to the banks and we depend on endless rising levels of credit,” the economics professor says. “Credit can continue rising but eventually you reach a peak and the gas runs out.”

Denmark, according to Keen, reached its world-record peak in 2010 at a household debt-to-GDP ratio of 139 per cent. While Australia is currently at 123 per cent, the country has some headroom because the corporate sector has deleveraged and the RBA still has some policy ammunition with the 1.5 per cent cash rate. Keen reckons we have two years, at most, before unravelling in a similar, catastrophic way to Ireland in the financial crisis. However Phil Ruthven, the experienced forecaster and founder of IBISWorld, says low interest rates mean that debt servicing is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. “But we do need to increase supply, and we do need to warn home buyers of the dangers of going too deep into debt when interest rates are rising,” Ruthven says.

Read more …

“They no longer have the means to meet basic needs, with consumption of milk and bread right down and payment of electricity bills at an all-time low.”

Greek Gloom As Economy Stalls Amid Latest Bout Of EU Wrangling (G.)

Eight years into Greece’s ordeal to escape bankruptcy, thousands of Communist party sympathisers packed into Syntagma Square in Athens on Friday to protest at the latest concessions made by Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government to keep the country afloat. Massed before parliament in the fading light of day, they did what they had come to do: rail against the cuts that loom in return for further disbursement of the emergency aid now needed to avert economic collapse. The serial drama of Greece’s debt repayments will reach a climax again when loans of €7.5bn mature in July. That communist-aligned unionists can still muster such protests is testament to the party’s zealous determination to make itself heard. Most Greeks gave up demonstrating long ago.

Two years short of a decade in freefall, and with little prospect of recovery, the nation has succumbed to protest fatigue. With the exception of pensioners – the great losers in Greece’s assault by austerity – anger has been replaced by malaise, the lassitude that strikes when loss becomes commonplace. Friday’s protest, one of more than 60 nationwide, came within hours of Europe escaping another dose of Greek drama after eurozone finance ministers announced that bailout talks – stalled as Athens bickered over the terms of its latest compliance review with lenders – could finally resume. International auditors representing the bodies behind the three bailout packages the country has received since May 2010 are expected to return to Greece on Monday. Once technical issues are addressed, the delayed bailout payment will be disbursed, ensuring default is averted in July.

In exchange, the once fiercely anti-austerity Tsipras has signed up to further reforms worth €3.6bn, the equivalent of 2% of GDP, to be put into effect once the current programme ends next year. “It is in the nature of every agreement for there to be compromises,” said Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who faces the thankless task of having to sell the prospect of more pension cuts and tax rises to sceptical leftists in the ruling Syriza party when it convenes on Sunday. “There are things that will upset … the Greek people.” After more than a year of hard talk and bluster – the review was meant to have been concluded in February 2016 – the government once again conceded on its own red lines, reflecting Athens’s overarching policy of keeping Greece in the heart of the eurozone. Tsipras, who fought hard to ensure countermeasures can also be taken to offset losses if economic indicators are better than expected, was quick to sound optimistic. “The Greek economy,” he announced, “is ready to leave the crisis behind it.”

But the breakthrough falls far short of the all-inclusive package the government was hoping for. Once again, promises of reducing the country’s staggering debt pile – at 180% of GDP, the biggest impediment to real economic recovery – will have to wait. [..] Unemployment has increased from 23.2% to 23.5%, with investors – the only guarantee of soaking up such an oversupply of labour – staying away. In a repeat of the chaos that beset the country’s financial system at the height of the crisis in 2015, an estimated €2.5bn of deposits left Greek banks in January and February. Consumption is also down. “The 37% of Greeks at risk of poverty and social exclusion really cannot make ends meet,” said Aliki Mouriki, a leading Greek sociologist. “They no longer have the means to meet basic needs, with consumption of milk and bread right down and payment of electricity bills at an all-time low.”

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That’s what you get for publishing made-up reports all the time, NYT.

The Picture Of Our Economy Looks A Lot Like A Rorschach Test (NYT)

Economics has a foundation in hard numbers – employment, inflation, spending – that has largely allowed it to sidestep the competing partisan narratives that have afflicted American politics and culture. But not anymore. Since Donald J. Trump’s victory in November, consumer sentiment has diverged in an unprecedented way, with Republicans convinced that a boom is at hand, and Democrats foreseeing an imminent recession. “We’ve never recorded this before,” said Richard Curtin, who directs the University of Michigan’s monthly survey of consumer sentiment. Although the outlook has occasionally varied by political party since the survey began in 1946, “the partisan divide has never had as large an impact on consumers’ economic expectations,” he said.

At the same time, familiar economic data points have become Rorschach tests. That was evident after the government’s monthly jobs report on Friday; Republicans’ talking points centered on a 10-year low in the unemployment rate, while Democrats focused on a sharp decline in job creation. “I find it stunning, to be honest. It’s unreal,” said Michael R. Strain, director of economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “Things that were less politicized in the past, like how you feel about the economy, have become more politicized now.” Indeed, the night-and-day views underscore yet another front on which Americans remain polarized five months after the election, and with President Trump nearing his 100th day in office.

[..] The University of Michigan researchers have their own way of measuring the gulf between the two viewpoints and how quickly it has flipped. Among Republicans, the Michigan consumer expectations index was at 61.1 in October, the kind of reading typically reported in the depths of a recession. Confident that Mrs. Clinton would win, Democrats registered a 95.4 reading, close to the highs reached when her husband was in office in the late 1990s and the economy was soaring. By March, the positions were reversed, with an even more extreme split. Republicans’ expectations had soared to 122.5, equivalent to levels registered in boom times. As for Democrats, they were even more pessimistic than Republicans had been in October.

As at the voting booth, the split in perceptions could have real-world consequences. If behavior tracks the recession-era sentiment among Democrats, who account for 32% of respondents in the survey, prophecies could quickly become self-fulfilling by affecting spending and investing decisions. “If one-third of the population cut their consumer spending by 5%, you get a recession,” said Alan Blinder, a Princeton economist who served in the Clinton administration and advised Al Gore and Hillary Clinton on economic policy during their Democratic presidential campaigns. “I don’t think it will happen, but it’s not beyond the realm of the possible.”

To be sure, even if Democratic consumers pulled back, that wouldn’t necessarily bring on a recession. A burst of spending by bullish Republicans, who equal 27% of those polled by the Michigan researchers, could counteract much of that drag. And independents, who are the largest cohort in the survey, at 41%, remain fairly optimistic about future growth. It is rare for “rising optimism to coexist with increasing uncertainty,” said Mr. Curtin, the Michigan expert. “The current level of optimism clearly indicates that no economywide spending retrenchment is underway, but the prevailing level of uncertainty will limit growth in discretionary spending.”

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Great conversation between two great economists. Very much worth a full read.

Steve Keen And Michael Hudson: Fixing The Economy (EI)

Michael Hudson: If you don’t cancel the debts, they’re going to keep growing, and all of the growth and national income is going to go to the creditors. So the fact is that the debts aren’t owed to the “we” – the 99%. The debts are owed to the 1%. 1% of the population has 75% of the financial assets. All their growth has occurred since 1980. So the question is, who are you going to save? The economy or the banks? If you don’t cancel the debts, they’re going to keep growing, and all of the growth and national income is going to go to the creditors. When President Obama came in, he promised that he was going to write down the debts – especially the junk mortgages – to the actual real value of the homes that the junk mortgage people had taken out.

Or and set the debt service – the money you have to pay every month to pay the mortgage, amortization, and principal, and interest to what the normal rental value of this would be. Well, as soon as he was elected, he dropped it all. He invited the bankers to the White House and said, boys, I’m the only guy standing between you and the pitchforks out there. Don’t worry, I can deliver my constituency to you. So, basically, the Democratic Party broke its voters into a black constituency, a women’s constituency, a LGBTQ constituency, and they’re all for Wall Street. Instead of saving the economy, Obama bailed out and saved the banks by keeping the debts in place. And once you have to pay that, it’s curtains. In the end, everybody’s going to end up in Greece. Greece is where you’re going, if you don’t.

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“I’m hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available who are saying that the essential narrative that we’re all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham.”

“People in both the agency [the CIA] and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he already should have known – but maybe he didn’t – and they’re afraid that this is moving toward a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict..”

Trump’s ‘Wag the Dog’ Moment (Robert Parry)

On Thursday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. intelligence community assessed with a “high degree of confidence” that the Syrian government had dropped a poison gas bomb on civilians in Idlib province. But a number of intelligence sources have made contradictory assessments, saying the preponderance of evidence suggests that Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels were at fault, either by orchestrating an intentional release of a chemical agent as a provocation or by possessing containers of poison gas that ruptured during a conventional bombing raid. One intelligence source told me that the most likely scenario was a staged event by the rebels intended to force Trump to reverse a policy, announced only days earlier, that the U.S. government would no longer seek “regime change” in Syria and would focus on attacking the common enemy, Islamic terror groups that represent the core of the rebel forces.

The source said the Trump national security team split between the President’s close personal advisers, such as nationalist firebrand Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, on one side and old-line neocons who have regrouped under National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, an Army general who was a protégé of neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus. In this telling, the earlier ouster of retired Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser and this week’s removal of Bannon from the National Security Council were key steps in the reassertion of neocon influence inside the Trump presidency. The strange personalities and ideological extremism of Flynn and Bannon made their ousters easier, but they were obstacles that the neocons wanted removed.

[..] Alarm within the U.S. intelligence community about Trump’s hasty decision to attack Syria reverberated from the Middle East back to Washington, where former CIA officer Philip Giraldi reported hearing from his intelligence contacts in the field that they were shocked at how the new poison-gas story was being distorted by Trump and the mainstream U.S. news media. Giraldi told Scott Horton’s Webcast: “I’m hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available who are saying that the essential narrative that we’re all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham.” Giraldi said his sources were more in line with an analysis postulating an accidental release of the poison gas after an Al Qaeda arms depot was hit by a Russian airstrike.

“The intelligence confirms pretty much the account that the Russians have been giving … which is that they hit a warehouse where the rebels – now these are rebels that are, of course, connected with Al Qaeda – where the rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear.” Giraldi said the anger within the intelligence community over the distortion of intelligence to justify Trump’s military retaliation was so great that some covert officers were considering going public. “People in both the agency [the CIA] and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he already should have known – but maybe he didn’t – and they’re afraid that this is moving toward a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict,” Giraldi said before Thursday night’s missile strike. “They are astonished by how this is being played by the administration and by the U.S. media.”

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The picture is pretty clear by now.

Former DIA Colonel: “US Strikes On Syria Based On A Lie” (IntelT)

Donald Trump’s decision to launch cruise missile strikes on a Syrian Air Force Base was based on a lie. In the coming days the American people will learn that the Intelligence Community knew that Syria did not drop a military chemical weapon on innocent civilians in Idlib. Here is what happened.

• The Russians briefed the United States on the proposed target. This is a process that started more than two months ago. There is a dedicated phone line that is being used to coordinate and deconflict (i.e., prevent US and Russian air assets from shooting at each other) the upcoming operation.

• The United States was fully briefed on the fact that there was a target in Idlib that the Russians believes was a weapons/explosives depot for Islamic rebels.

• The Syrian Air Force hit the target with conventional weapons. All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians.

• There was a strong wind blowing that day and the cloud was driven to a nearby village and caused casualties.

• We know it was not sarin. How? Very simple. The so-called “first responders” handled the victims without gloves. If this had been sarin they would have died. Sarin on the skin will kill you. How do I know? I went through “Live Agent” training at Fort McClellan in Alabama.

• There are members of the U.S. military who were aware this strike would occur and it was recorded. There is a film record. At least the Defense Intelligence Agency knows that this was not a chemical weapon attack. In fact, Syrian military chemical weapons were destroyed with the help of Russia.

This is Gulf of Tonkin 2. How ironic. Donald Trump correctly castigated George W. Bush for launching an unprovoked, unjustified attack on Iraq in 2003. Now we have President Donald Trump doing the same damn thing. Worse in fact. Because the intelligence community had information showing that there was no chemical weapon launched by the Syrian Air Force. Here’s the good news. The Russians and Syrians were informed, or at least were aware, that the attack was coming. They were able to remove a large number of their assets. The base the United States hit was something of a backwater. Donald Trump gets to pretend that he is a tough guy. He is not. He is a fool.

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Tulsi is being drowned out by the trigger happy Democrats. But she actually served in the Middle East.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard On Syria (Fox)

The cost of war is profound. I’m opposed to the escalation of the counterproductive regime change war in Syria because it will lead to the deaths of more innocent men, women and children. Terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, the strongest forces on the ground in Syria, will continue to increase their strength and influence over the region in the vacuum of a central government.

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The French detest their political system even more than Americans do theirs. It’s very possible abstentions will decide the elections. And Le Pen voters WILL go to the ballot box.

How Marine Le Pen Could Win (Pol.)

Could Marine Le Pen become France’s next president? A quick look at polling trends suggests that at first blush at least, the answer is “no.” [..] But for Serge Galam, a French physicist who predicted Donald Trump’s election in the United States, polls are missing out on an important factor: abstention — and specifically, how it affects voter turnout for different candidates. He argues that abstention, which a poll by CEVIPOF showed could be as high as 30%, is likely to be decisive in a “dirty” campaign dominated by scandals. “Obviously, nothing is done yet but her election is becoming very likely,” said Galam, a researcher with the French National Center for Scientific Research who also studies public opinion at the CEVIPOF political science institute. “I’m taking a scientific view of this — she needs a turnout differential of about 20% to win.”

[..] If Le Pen is projected to lose the runoff by 41 to 59%, for example, Galam argues that Le Pen could still win if the turnout rate for her voters is 90% versus 70% for her rival, for an overall turnout rate of 79%. In other words, the National Front leader could benefit because a substantial number of people who say they will vote for her rival may not actually go to the polls. Equally, if Le Pen is projected to lose by 45 to 55% in the runoff, she could win if turnout for her is 85% versus 70% for her rival, for an overall turnout of 77%. If overall turnout is 76%, then Le Pen would need a turnout of 90% versus 65% for her rival, and so on.

Some polls have Le Pen lagging behind Macron or Fillon by more than 30 percentage points, which would make her victory near impossible. But others show her within striking distance, with a lag of less than 20 points. If she can shrink the gap, then the challenge for Le Pen will be to mobilize a greater proportion of her supporters than her rivals. In this regard, Galam argues that Le Pen has a shot. For different reasons, he says, both Macron and Fillon aroused intense feelings of “aversion” among some voters, with a large proportion of Macron voters saying they could change their mind on election day. Negative or ambivalent feelings could translate into weaker turnout for them on election day.

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Newsweek wakes up to a 2 week old report from IBT.

Privacy Experts Say CIA Left Americans Open To Cyber Attacks (IBT)

WikiLeaks release of the latest cache of confidential C.I.A. documents as part of an ongoing “Vault 7” operation exposed some of the U.S. government’s hacking and digital espionage capabilities—this time having to do with iPhones and other smart devices used by hundreds of millions of people across the globe. But cyber security experts and computers scientists are raising concerns over the C.I.A.’s disregard of safety measures put in place for discovering these dangerous flaws in smart gadgets. The federal agency has kept its discovery of many exploits (software tools targeting flaws in products, typically used for malicious hacking purposes) a secret, “stockpiling” that information rather than reporting it to multinational corporations, throwing millions of Americans into the crosshairs of a dangerous, intergovernmental spying game in the process.

“What’s critical to understand is that these vulnerabilities can be exploited not just by our government but by foreign governments and cyber criminals around the world, and that’s deeply troubling,” said Ashley Gorski, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney working on the civil rights group’s national security project. “Our government should be working to help the companies patch vulnerabilities when they are discovered, not stockpiling them.” The C.I.A. knew its own classified documents had been floating around the dark web for at least a year and was well aware the hacking capabilities it was using to break into everyday tech could also have been employed by hostile foreign networks. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin reportedly orchestrated a sprawling governmental operation in an attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which featured several cyber attacks on email servers and devices used by members of the Democratic Party.

The government enacted the Vulnerabilities Equities Process to reduce the unnecessary stockpiling of exploits. The procedure was meant to provide guidelines for agencies like the C.I.A. for notifying companies when dangerous issues are discovered in their devices. The measure was put in place during the Obama administration to prevent cyber attacks from terrorist networks and foreign governments, including Russia and China. But the C.I.A. completely ignored the Vulnerabilities Equity Process, instead exploring ways to use exploits for their own purposes, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international nonprofit digital rights group that reviewed a copy of the practice after filing a Freedom of Information Act request. “It appears the CIA didn’t even use the [Vulnerabilities Equity Process],” said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “That’s worrisome, because we know these agencies overvalue their offensive capabilities and undervalue the risk to the rest of us.”

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There is so much wrong in China’s urbanization it’s hard to decide where to start.

Rising Waters Threaten China’s Rising Cities (NYT)

The rains brought torrents, pouring into basements and malls, the water swiftly rising a foot and a half. The city of Dongguan, a manufacturing center here in the world’s most dynamic industrial region, was hit especially hard by the downpour in May 2014. More than 100 factories and shops were inundated. Water climbed knee-high in 20 minutes, wiping out inventory for dozens of businesses. Next door in Guangzhou, an ancient, mammoth port city of 13 million, helicopters and a fleet of 80 boats had to be sent to rescue trapped residents. Tens of thousands lost their homes, and 53 square miles of nearby farmland were ruined. The cost of repairs topped $100 million. Chen Rongbo, who lived in the city, saw the flood coming. He tried to scramble to safety on the second floor of his house, carrying his 6-year-old granddaughter. He slipped. The flood swept both of them away.

Flooding has been a plague for centuries in southern China’s Pearl River Delta. So even the rains that May, the worst in the area in years, soon drifted from the headlines. People complained and made jokes on social media about wading through streets that had become canals and riding on half-submerged buses through lakes that used to be streets. But there was no official hand-wringing about what caused the floods or how climate change might bring more extreme storms and make the problems worse. A generation ago, this was mostly farmland. Three vital rivers leading to the South China Sea, along with a spider’s web of crisscrossing tributaries, made the low-lying delta a fertile plain, famous for rice. Guangzhou, formerly Canton, had more than a million people, but by the 1980s, China set out to transform the whole region, capitalizing on its proximity to water, the energy of its people, and the money and port infrastructure of neighboring Hong Kong.

Rushing to catch up after decades of stagnation, China built a gargantuan collection of cities the size of nations with barely a pause to consider their toll on the environment, much less the future impact of global warming. Today, the region is a goliath of industry with a population exceeding 42 million. But while prosperity reshaped the social and cultural geography of the delta, it didn’t fundamentally alter the topography. Here, as elsewhere, breakneck development comes up against the growing threat of climate change. Economically, Guangzhou now has more to lose from climate change than any other city on the planet, according to a World Bank report. Nearby Shenzhen, another booming metropolis, ranked 10th on that World Bank list, which measured risk as a percentage of GDP.


Shenzhen was transformed in a few decades from a small fishing village into a city of millions.

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Apr 082017
 
 April 8, 2017  Posted by at 8:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dorothea Lange Wife of sharecropper in town to sell crop at tobacco auction, Douglas Georgia 1938

 

US Credit Card Debt Tops $1 Trillion For The First Time In A Decade (ZH)
Store Wars: US Retail Sector Is Shedding Jobs Like It’s A Recession (MW)
Apparel Retailers Lead The Charge Out Of Brick-And-Mortar (Forbes)
Wall Street Is Making It Harder to Buy a Car (BBG)
US Jobs Growth Slumps To 98,000 In March (MW)
Millions Of Americans Desperate To Trade Part-Time Work For Full-Time (MW)
Toronto Real Estate Is In A Bubble Of Historic Proportions (Rosenberg)
Rosenberg: Toronto Housing Bubble ‘On Par With What We Had In The US’ (BNN)
Could Europe Copy America’s Supersized Corporate Debt? (BBG)
Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie: “Stop Your Governments!” – Russia (FR)
US Missile Strikes in Syria Cross Russian ‘Red Lines’ (RI)
Greece On Course To Avoid Debt Default As Athens Agrees Pension Cuts (Tel.)
Letting People Drown Is Not A European Value (EUO)

 

 

On top of auto and student loans, both already well over $1 trillion. Get a fork and turn ’em over.

US Credit Card Debt Tops $1 Trillion For The First Time In A Decade (ZH)

Unlike last month’s unexpectedly week consumer credit report, which saw a plunge in revolving, or credit card, debt moments ago the Fed, in its latest G.19 release, announced that there were few surprises in the February report: Total revolving credit rose by $2.9 billion, undoing last month’s $2.6 billion drop – the biggest since 2012 – while non-revolving credit increased by $12.3 billion, for a total increase in February consumer credit of $15.2 billion, roughly in line with the $15 billion expected. However, while in general the data was uneventful, there was one notable milestone: in February, following modest prior revisions, total revolving/credit card debt, has once again risen above the “nice round number” of $1 trillion for the first time since January 2007… where it now joins both auto ($1.1 trillion) and student ($1.4 trillion) loans, both of which are well above $1 trillion as of this moment.

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It IS a recession.

Store Wars: US Retail Sector Is Shedding Jobs Like It’s A Recession (MW)

The U.S. retail industry is shedding jobs at an unparalleled pace outside of recession and stands to lose many more as the industry continues to shrink its physical footprint, a response to the shift in consumer shopping habits away from purchasing in stores and malls in favor of e-commerce. The U.S. retail sector lost 60,600 jobs in February and March, the worst two months for the sector since the tail end of 2009, according to Labor Department data. The category called general merchandise stores – Target, J.C. Penney and the like – has shed jobs for five consecutive months. Media reports have tallied more than 3,500 store closures for 2017, with retailers including J.C. Penney, Sears, Macy’s and others announcing that they are shutting doors and making job cuts.

Ralph Lauren has outlined the next phase of its turnaround effort, which includes shutting stores and cutting jobs. Bankruptcies and liquidations have also picked up, with Payless ShoeSource just this week announcing nearly 400 store closures. Wet Seal, Aeropostale, Sports Authority, and Hhgregg are among the many other retailers that have either filed for bankruptcy or liquidated. The current state of retail, which is weighed by less foot traffic, more promotions, and increased competition, particularly from Amazon.com, suggests that additional closures are on the horizon. The U.S. simply has too many stores, according to a report from Cowen & Company titled “Retail’s Disruption Yields Opportunities – Store Wars!,” which found that up to 2,000 stores should close.

“[W]e expect online penetration of apparel to increase to 35% to 40% from 20%, yielding closures of 20% at oversized chains,” the report said. Cowen analysts say there are about 1,200 malls in the U.S. and they represent about 15% of retail square footage. Cowen anticipates that up to about 20%, or 240 malls, will close or be repurposed, with anchor store closures and the rise of digital among the primary drivers.

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The Amazon bubble. Killing off America’s last remaining meeting places.

Apparel Retailers Lead The Charge Out Of Brick-And-Mortar (Forbes)

This week, Payless ShoeSource filed for bankruptcy, joining many other U.S. apparel brands, including The Limited and Wet Seal, that have sought Chapter 11 protection in recent months. These three chains alone will shutter almost 1,000 stores. Fung Global Retail & Technology estimates that all of the major U.S. store closures announced so far this year total 2,507. That total is just for announcements made in the three months through April 4, 2017, yet it already dwarfs the 1,674 store closures we recorded across major U.S. chains in all of 2016. Closures are impacting multiple sectors: electronics is represented by RadioShack, furniture and appliances by Hhgregg, office products by Staples and healthcare by CVS. Apparel, however, is leading the charge out of brick-and-mortar. We calculate that apparel retailers and department stores account for 2,060 (82%) of the 2,507 closures announced so far this year.

What can we infer from this surge in store closures? We see three principal takeaways: Weak demand for apparel persists. The most obvious conclusion from the recent bankruptcy filings is that apparel retailers continue to feel the impact of subdued consumer demand. American shoppers have been flush with cash thanks to low gas prices, but they have chosen to spend on cars and their homes rather than on fashion. The latest retail sales data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that apparel specialist stores saw a 1% year-over-year decline in sales in February. There is little reason to think shoppers will switch back to apparel as interest rates rise and if fuel prices creep up.

Second, pure-play retailing is fashionable again. Amid all the talk of omnichannel retailing and Internet pure plays opening brick-and-mortar stores, we are now seeing a trend of retailers going the opposite way, moving from operating stores to selling only online. Bebe is one such retailer that is planning to become an Internet pure play. The Limited considered a similar plan but is no longer selling online after filing for bankruptcy. Third, more retailers are facing reality. Not all store closures are being forced by bankruptcies. J.C. Penney and Macy’s, for instance, are slimming down their store networks in order to prepare for the future. We expect more retailers to join them in recognizing a need for fewer stores. Accordingly, we do not expect this year’s store-closure count to stop at 2,507.

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Just in time economy?!

Wall Street Is Making It Harder to Buy a Car (BBG)

On countless occasions in recent years, the U.S. auto industry has relied on cheap and easy credit from Wall Street to get it through rough patches. Not this time. With both bad loans and interest rates on the rise, financial institutions are becoming more selective in doling out credit for new-car purchases, adding to the pressure for automakers already up against the wall with sliding sales, swelling inventories and a used-car glut. “We’ve been having a party for a few years and it was fun,” said Maryann Keller, an industry consultant in Stamford, Connecticut. “Now lenders are getting back to basics.” Many figure they have to. For one thing, subprime borrowers have been falling behind on their car-loan payments at a rate not seen since just after the 2008 financial crisis.

Delinquencies for auto debt of all stripes have been climbing, with the value of those behind for at least 30 days swelling to $23.3 billion in December, a 14% jump from a year earlier, according to the Federal Reserve. This helps explain why 10% of senior bank-loan officers said they expect to pull back on extending credit to car buyers this year, according to a Fed survey. Expectations are that terms will toughen for loans the vast majority of Americans need to buy new vehicles as the Fed boosts benchmark rates. “There are only so many people wanting a new car and only so much capital available,” said Daniel Parry, CEO of Praxis Finance and co-founder of Exeter Finance, a subprime lender. “Manufacturers and lenders will have to reset to reduced volume levels.”

The reset has already started, with auto sales dipping in each of the first three months of the year. In March, the annualized pace, adjusted for seasonal trends, slowed to 16.6 million from 16.7 million a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. Analysts had projected it would accelerate to about 17.2 million. Now Goldman Sachs economists figure there’s only demand for about 15 million per year, they said in an April 4 report. The industry set a record by selling 17.6 million cars and trucks in 2016 and has been on a seven-year growth streak. But General Motors, Ford and others had to pile on discounts and incentives to keep the expansion going, with both their finance arms and third-party lenders giving them a boost with easy credit. “This has come full circle,” Keller, the consultant, said. “We’ve created an auto market of 17.5 million vehicles based on accommodating credit. There will be consequences.”

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Whaddaya think? Yup, weather.

US Jobs Growth Slumps To 98,000 In March (MW)

The U.S. created just 98,000 new jobs in March to mark the smallest gain in almost a year, a sign the labor market is not quite as strong as big hiring gains earlier in 2017 suggested. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell to 4.5% from 4.7% and touched a nearly 10-year low despite the slowdown in hiring. U.S. stocks ended the session pretty much where they started as investors sifted through the March employment report. The U.S. had added more than 200,000 jobs in January and February, but hiring in weather-sensitive industries such as construction was helped by unusually high temperatures in the dead of winter.

Many economists were skeptical the recent pace of job creation was sustainable after a six-year hiring boom that chopped the unemployment rate in half and ignited growing complaints among companies about a shortage of skilled workers to fill open jobs. As a result, economists polled by MarketWatch had estimated the number of new jobs created in March would taper off to 185,000 in the third month of Donald Trump’s young presidency. Instead the decline was even steeper, speared by plunging employment in a beleaguered retail industry. “The 200,000-plus numbers reported for job gains in January and February always seemed a bit outlandish,” said Steven Blitz, chief U.S. economist at TS Lombard. Added economist Harm Bandholz of UniCredit: “Most of this is weather related and correct for exaggerated strengths seen earlier in the year.”

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It’s going so well, get me come shades.

Millions Of Americans Desperate To Trade Part-Time Work For Full-Time (MW)

Millions of Americans don’t want to work part-time. The U.S. economy added just 98,000 jobs in March, the smallest gain in nearly a year, after adding more than 200,000 jobs in January and February. Economists predicted that the number of jobs created in March would hit 180,000, so the actual figures fell far short of that. Unemployment fell to a 10-year-low of 4.5% in March from 4.7% in February, but the “real” unemployment rate that includes part-time workers who would rather work full-time and job hunters who gave up searching for work was 8.9%, although this was also down from 9.2% in February. Part-time work is still a contentious alternative for many workers. On Thursday, Amazon said it will create 30,000 part-time jobs in the U.S. over the next year, nearly double the current number. Of those, 25,000 will be in warehouses and 5,000 will be home-based customer service positions.

Amazon said in January it would create 100,000 full-time jobs over the next 18 months, according to a separate announcement made in January. Last year, Amazon’s world-wide workforce grew by 48% to 341,400 employees. In the U.S., it has over 70 “fulfillment centers” and 90,000 full-time employees. There were some 5.6 million involuntary part-time workers in March 2017, little changed from the month before, but down from 6.4 million a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is up from 4.5 million in November 2007, but way off a peak of 8.6 million in September 2012. These figures are almost entirely due to the inability of workers to find full-time jobs, leaving many workers to take or keep lower-paying jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think-tank in Washington, D.C. And 54% of the growth in these involuntary part-time jobs between 2007 and 2015 were in retail, leisure and hospitality industries, the EPI said.

[..] Perhaps not surprisingly, involuntary part-time workers tend to earn less than their voluntary part-time counterparts. Approximately 40% of involuntary part-time workers report a total family income of less than $30,000, compared with just 18% of the latter and 29% of the population as a whole, according to an earlier report published in 2015 by Rutgers University. More than four out of every five involuntary part-time workers says it’s hard to save for retirement and about seven out of every 10 say they earn less money than they and their family need to get by and pay bills.

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It’s too late to gently deflate.

Toronto Real Estate Is In A Bubble Of Historic Proportions (Rosenberg)

The concerns about froth in Toronto’s housing market are not likely to subside given the sticker-shock from the latest report from the Toronto Real Estate Board. As per the March report, the average single-detached house in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) sold for $1,214,422 last month up from $910,375 in March of last year – that is a 33% YoY surge, and follows a 16% run-up over the prior 12 months. Whatever the term is for an acceleration in an already parabolic curve, well, that is what we have on our hands today. And it isn’t just detached homes seeing this degree of rapid price appreciation — the benchmark single-family home selling price was up 29% YoY, the benchmark townhouse price was up 28% and the condo/apartment composite was up 24%. This is a bubble of historic proportions.

Not only to have home prices in the GTA now absorb an unprecedented 13 years of median family income, but to have 30%-ish run-ups against a backdrop of a 2% inflation rate, wages that are barely going up 2% as well, and nominal GDP growth of around 4%. This should put 30% into some sort of perspective when we conclude that what we have on our hands is a near three standard deviation event. That alone qualifies as a bubble — if you don’t like that term, then call it a giant sud. In the past, Toronto home prices went up at an annual rate of 4% in real terms, in the past year they have surged by nearly 30%. [..] it goes without saying that if the name of the game is to tame the flame then have the foreign investor share the blame. A tax on foreign transactions, as was already done in Vancouver, seems like a pretty good idea.

And the government can at the very least use the revenues to either provide greater tax incentives to build and/or provide tax relief for the low/mid income entry-level buyer who is struggling to cobble together the funds for a down payment. So yes, in this sense, I would be advocating a Robin Hood style of economic policy. Indeed, what may be needed is a very progressive tax on foreign buying of local residential real estate in the bid to cool demand and reverse the exponential surge in home prices – a surge that is creating tremendous social problems by crowding out young families (or individuals) from chasing the homeownership dream (a typical response is for these folks is to go out and buy a condo instead, but the reality is that average prices here have also skyrocketed 24% in the past year and are in a bubble of their own).

Everyone says that the Bank of Canada cannot raise interest rates to curb the excess demand because of the deleterious effect this would have on the economy writ large (for example, taking the Canadian dollar back up to or above 80 cents which would thwart our export competitiveness which has become a longstanding role of the central bank). Be that as it may, the home price surge in the GTA over the past year has impaired homeowner affordability to such an extent that it is basically the equivalent of the Bank of Canada having raised rates 150 basis points – actually a 200 basis point increase if you were to look at what home prices have done to affordability ratios over the past two years …

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“Where home prices are in Toronto, they absorb 13 years of average family income. That is completely abnormal. We’ve never seen this before.”

Rosenberg: Toronto Housing Bubble ‘On Par With What We Had In The US’ (BNN)

Gluskin Sheff Chief Economist David Rosenberg is joining the growing chorus of calls for government intervention into the Toronto housing market. In an interview on BNN, Rosenberg, who correctly called the U.S. housing bubble in 2005, said the massive deviation from historical norms has him drawing comparisons between the two situations. “This bubble is on par with what we had in the States back in ’05, ’06, ’07,” he said. “We have to actually take a look at the situation. The housing market here is in a classic price bubble. If you don’t acknowledge that, you have your head in the sand.” Rosenberg warned unchecked increases in home prices are becoming a social issue. “It’s not an equity, it’s not a bond – it’s where people live,” he said. “Where home prices are in Toronto, they absorb 13 years of average family income. That is completely abnormal. We’ve never seen this before.”

Rosenberg said he’d be singing a different tune if price increases were running in line with any of the usual economic fundamentals, such as job growth, rising incomes, or nominal GDP growth. “We’re out of equilibrium, and when we’re out of equilibrium, or there’s some sort of market failure, are there grounds there for government intervention? I think even the most ardent libertarian would say ‘yes,’” he said. Rosenberg said there are a trio of levers the government can pull to cool down the market. Authorities can address supply, which he said has already been “kiboshed.” Interest rates can be raised, but Rosenberg doesn’t believe the Bank of Canada will do that. Or new policy can be drafted to address the prevalence of speculation.

“These are not prices driven by the local fundamentals – this is the foreign buyer coming in,” Rosenberg said. “Toronto has really emerged as a first-class city, not just politically, not just culturally and economically, but also in terms of being a major financial centre. But if you’re going to ask me at this stage, ‘do we need to approach taxation of this capital coming in differently to curb the demand?’ [That’s] absolutely right.”

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In a word: YES.

Could Europe Copy America’s Supersized Corporate Debt? (BBG)

Unilever CEO Paul Polman must have had one eye focused across the Atlantic when he unveiled his revamp of the consumer goods giant this week. And not just because erstwhile suitors 3G Capital, Kraft Heinz and Warren Buffett will have been watching. In an effort to appease shareholders, Polman also ripped a couple of pages from any U.S. CEO’s post-crisis playbook: load more debt on the balance sheet and buy back lots of your own shares. So Unilever will lift its net debt to Ebitda ratio from 1.3 to 2 and buy back 5 billion euros ($5.3 billion) of stock.In Europe, that counts as relatively bold. Faced with anemic economic growth since the global financial crisis, non-financial companies here have typically been reluctant to take on more debt, as the chart below shows.

They’re also far less likely to buy back stock: U.S. corporations repurchased more than $530 billion of stock last year. In Europe the total was a fraction of that.Polman seems to have belatedly recognized the obvious: having a lightly geared balance sheet makes a company vulnerable to a takeover. That’s especially true if the buyer is holding dollars and your stock is priced in relatively cheap euros or pounds.

Of course there’s an argument what Polman is doing is common sense. Debt is cheap compared to equity, so Unilever’s balance sheet is simply becoming more efficient. Having more debt shouldn’t pose a problem for Unilever as its earnings power is considerable. People still need to buy soap and deodorant, even in a recession.Still, this sets a rather uncomfortable precedent. Polman rebuffed Kraft Heinz’s $143 billion bid in part because he’s no fan of financial engineering. It would be a shame if other European companies now drew the conclusion that to remain independent they need to indulge in some financial engineering of their own. Especially if they load up on too much debt just as the current economic cycle starts to look long in the tooth.

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She’s crystal clear.

Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie: “Stop Your Governments!” – Russia (FR)

On April 7th, US warships delivered an illegal blow to a Syrian airbase in Homs. Their justification was the recent “chemical weapon” attack on behalf of the Syrian government in Idlib. The Kremlin condemned the strike as an act of aggression against a sovereign state, and a violation of international law. Meanwhile, at the UN, representatives of Western governments attempt to push through a resolution that is based on information taken out of thin air. It includes the removal of Assad, whether or not he was behind the attack.

It is noteworthy, that the only real source of information on what took place, are the videos made by the White Helmets, an infamous propaganda organisation as it pertains to the Syrian civil war. In this clip, Maria Zakharova calls on Western respresenatives/ journalists to hear Russia, and what it has to say. The attack against the Syrian government, much like the Ghouta gas attack in 2013, which precipitated the Syrian civil war, is a giant facade for the military industrial warhawks in the US, to put their money where their mouth is.

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“Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for this before the end of the month.”

US Missile Strikes in Syria Cross Russian ‘Red Lines’ (RI)

My days as apologist for Donald Trump’s backsliding on his electoral campaign promise of a new direction in foreign policy are over. From being the solution, he has become an integral part of the problem. And with his bigger than life ego, petulance and stubbornness, Commander-in-Chief Trump is potentially a greater threat to world peace than the weak-willed Barack Obama whom he replaced. Trump has ignored Russian calls for an investigation into the alleged chemical gas attack in Idlib province before issuing conclusions on culpability, as happened within hours of the event. He has accepted a narrative that is very possibly a false flag produced by anti-government rebels in Syria, disseminated by the White Helmets and other phony NGO’s paid from Washington and London.

He ordered the firing of 50 or more Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian Government air base in Homs province, thereby crossing all Russian “red lines” in Syria. Until this point, the Kremlin has chosen not to react to all signs coming from Washington that Trump’s determination to change course on Russia and global hegemony was failing. The wait-and-see posture antedated Trump’s accession to power when Putin overruled the dictates of protocol and did not respond to Obama’s final salvo, the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the U.S. and the eviction of Russian diplomats. The Russians also looked the other way when the new administration continued the same Neocon rhetoric from the tribune of the UN Security Council and during the visits of Vice President Pence, Pentagon boss Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson to Europe.

However, the missile attack in Syria is a game changer. The pressure on Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin to respond in kind is now enormous. Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for this before the end of the month. In the meantime, we who have been hoping for a change of direction, for the rooting out of the Neocons and Liberal hawks directing the Deep State should drop what we are doing, and help form a grass roots political statement that Donald Trump and the political establishment will hear loud and clear.

A mass letter-writing campaign to Congress and the White House? A march on Washington? One way or another, the White House must be told that arranging foreign policy moves out of purely domestic calculations, such as likely happened yesterday puts the nation’s very existence at risk. Acting tough, striking out at Russia and its allies, is not the way to form a coalition to pass a tax reform act. The same may be said of an alternative reading of the missile attack yesterday: that it was intended as a message to visiting Chinese President Xi that should there be no joint action to restrain North Korea, the United States will act alone and with total disregard for international law. Either logic in the end is a formula for suicide.

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I predict very large demonstrations, and quite possibly more violent ones. This could well be the end of Tsipras, and of SYRIZA; there’s no credibility left. They should have fought for the people.

Greece On Course To Avoid Debt Default As Athens Agrees Pension Cuts (Tel.)

Greece is on course to avoid a debt default this summer after creditors reached a deal with Athens on reforms including pension cuts and tax changes that will continue until the end of the decade. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the group of eurozone finance ministers, said creditors had reached an agreement in principle on the “size, sequencing and timing” of Greek reforms. The agreement also paves the way for the IMF to join the country’s third, €86bn bail-out programme. The Eurogroup chief said “significant progress” had been made in all areas, with debt inspectors expected to return to Greece shortly to “put the last dots on the ‘i’s and to reach a full staff-level agreement as soon as possible”.

A final agreement among finance chiefs will unlock a fresh tranche of rescue funds, enabling Athens to pay back around €6bn to creditors in July, including the ECB. “We’ve solved all the big issues,” said Mr Dijsselbloem. “The big blocks have now been sorted out and that should allow us to speed up and go for the final stretch.” The measures, which include controversial cuts to pensions and a widening of the tax base, amount to 2pc of Greek GDP in 2019 and 2020. Greece will be able to implement “parallel expansionary measures” if the economy is strong enough, said Mr Dijsselbloem. He said discussions on medium-term debt relief would not be discussed at a political level until a full agreement is reached and approved by the Greek government, which has a slim majority.

The pension cuts are likely to spark a fresh wave of protests across the country. Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek finance minister, said austerity measures would be legislated “in the coming weeks”. “There are things that will upset the Greek people,” he said. Mr Tsakalotos said the government would also adopt stimulus measures in parallel, which will be “activated” if Athens meets its fiscal targets. Gerry Rice, a spokesman at the IMF, welcomed the “important progress” made in recent weeks, but said it still needed “satisfactory assurances” on debt sustainability before the Fund would seek board approval to participate in Greece’s third rescue programme.

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There is so much in the way of international law and UN conventions to protect refugees, but none of it has any meaning in Brussels.

Letting People Drown Is Not A European Value (EUO)

595. A nice round number, right? It refers to the dead and missing in the central Mediterranean, mostly between Libya and Italy, in the first three months of 2017. The known dead died from drowning, exposure, hypothermia, and suffocation. Horrible, agonising deaths. 24,474. This is a nicer number. It refers to the women, men, and children who made it safely to Italy this year, all of them plucked from flimsy, overcrowded boats by European vessels. Many were rescued by teams from nongovernmental organisations patrolling international waters just off Libya, where most migrant boats depart. Those groups – including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), SOS Mediterranee, Proactiva Open Arms, Sea-Watch and others – are now being accused of encouraging boat migration. Or worse, of collusion with people smugglers.

The EU border agency, Frontex, has suggested that the presence of rescue operations by nongovernmental groups is a pull factor, encouraging people to take the dangerous journey in hopes of rescue. A prosecutor in Catania, Sicily, has opened an inquiry into the funding streams for these groups, indicating a suspicion that they may be profiting illicitly from the movement of people in search of safety and better lives. This is the latest cruel twist in the EU’s response to boat migration from Libya. It reflects concern over increasing numbers of people embarking from Libya, the strain on the reception system in Italy and beyond, and the rise of xenophobic populism in many EU countries. But blaming the lifesavers ignores history, reality, and basic morality.

As MSF’s Aurelie Ponthieu explained, the NGO group rescuers are not “the cause but a response” to an ongoing human tragedy. Even before the significant increase in numbers in 2015, tens of thousands of people have been risking their lives in unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean for decades; almost 14,000 have died or been reported missing since 2011. After the October 2013 Lampedusa tragedy, in which 368 people lost their lives, there was increased talk among organisations about mounting rescue missions in the central Mediterranean. In 2015, that became a reality, in large part because the end of the Italian navy’s humanitarian rescue mission Mare Nostrum and the gaps in its poor replacement by the EU border agency Frontex. People embark on these dangerous journeys for myriad reasons; they are fleeing persecution, violence, and poverty, and moving toward freedom, safety, and opportunity.

Both pull and push factors are always in play when people are on the move. Insofar as more freedoms, liberties, and policies grounded in respect for human rights – including vital rescue-at-sea operations – serve as pull factors, these should not be sacrificed in the name of limiting migration. The presence of EU vessels just off Libyan waters has changed the dynamic of boat migration. There is more hope of rescue, and smugglers have adopted even more unscrupulous tactics like using inflatable (throw-away) Zodiacs instead of wooden boats and providing only enough fuel to reach international waters. But to question the humanitarian imperative of rescue at sea is to discard our most basic respect for life. And the logic of those who criticise the rescue operations as a pull factor is that the groups should stop rescuing people and let them drown to discourage others from coming.

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Apr 062017
 
 April 6, 2017  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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DPC Oyster luggers along Mississippi, New Orleans 1906

 

Euro Saves Germany, Slaughters the PIGS, & Feeds the BLICS (Hamilton)
Greece Wants Eurozone Summit If Deal On Bailout Doesn’t Happen Soon (AP)
Half Of American Working Families Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (MW)
Trump Top Economic Adviser Cohn Backs Split Of Lending, Investment Banks (BBG)
IMF Explains How To Subvert Resistance Against Elimination Of Cash (Häring)
Precursors to the ’08 Crisis are Repeating Now (Nomi Prins)
Former Fed Advisor Says Central Bank Shouldn’t Comment On Equities (CNBC)
Is the Fed’s Balance Sheet Headed for the Crapper? (DiMartino Booth)
Toronto House Price Bubble Goes Nuts (WS)
Interest-Only Loans ‘To End In Tears’ (Aus.)
China Is More Fragile than You Realize (DR)
Syria Gas Attack: Assad’s Doing…Or False Flag? (Ron Paul)
Reports In Unmasking Controversy Were Detailed (Fox)
We Are Heading For The Warmest Climate In Half A Billion Years (Conv.)

 

 

Absolutely brilliant by Chris Hamilton. Many more graphs in the article. h/t Tyler

Euro Saves Germany, Slaughters the PIGS, & Feeds the BLICS (Hamilton)

Germany was well aware of it’s post WWII collapsing birth rate and the impact of this on economic growth as this shrinking population of young made it’s way into the Core.  Consider Germany’s Core population peaked in 1995 and it’s domestic consumer base has been shrinking since, now down over 3.3 million potential consumers (about a 9% Core decline…remember a depression is a 10% decline in economic activity, which a 9% and growing decline in German consumers would have almost surely induced).

GERMANY

The chart below shows Germany’s Core population from 1950–>2040…but understand this is no guestimate through 2040.  This is simply taking the existing 0-24yr/old population (plus anticipated immigration) and sliding them into the Core through 2040.  Germany’s Core population is set to fall by over 30% or 10+ million by 2040 (far more than the 7 million Germans of all ages who died in WWII).

 

But Germany had a plan.  With the advent of the EU and Euro just as Germany’s Core began shrinking, Germany was able to avoid the pitfalls of a shrinking domestic consumer base, circumvent the strong German currency, and effectively quadruple it’s effective export market across Europe.  German exports, as a % of GDP, have essentially doubled since the advent of the Euro (22% in ’95 to almost 50% in ’16).  The chart below highlights Germany’s shrinking Core vs. rising GDP (primarily via exports) since 1995.

[..] the German motivation for the EU and Euro are fairly plain as are the resultant economic transfusion from South to North.  But for Germany to be a winner, there had to be a loser in this shrinking pie game.  Hello PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), you lost.  As the old poker adage goes, when you don’t know who the sucker at the table is…it’s you.  Particularly when you “win big” at first and it all seems so easy…but then it all turns.

PIGS

The chart below shows the PIGS Core population peaking about 15 years later than in Germany but likewise clearly rolling over.  By 2040, the PIGS Core population will be back at it’s 1960 levels…down from the 2010 peak by 17 million or about a 30% decline.

But if we look at the PIGS combined GDP and Core population…we see a very different picture than in Germany.  The chart below shows the PIGS GDP turned down ahead of the Core population peak.  The rise in GDP in these nations was a credit bubble premised on cheap EU wide interest rates more appropriate for Germany.  Exports as a % of GDP (which were higher than Germany’s in ’95) have risen less than half of Germany’s increase (rising as a % primarily due to declining PIGS GDP).  Low German wage increases and high quality German goods helped displace PIGS domestic manufacturing base.

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The logical consequence of the article above. Economic warfare. Tsipras complains about the Troika “moving the goalposts”, but that’s exactly the game, Alexis.

Greece Wants Eurozone Summit If Deal On Bailout Doesn’t Happen Soon (AP)

Top Greek and European officials indicated Wednesday that it’s possible to reach a breakthrough in the country’s difficult bailout talks over the next two days. Greece’s prime minister said that if a deal on paying Athens the next bailout installment fails to materialize, the eurozone should hold a special summit. Alexis Tsipras said negotiators are “just a breath away” from an agreement at Friday’s scheduled meeting in Malta of the so-called eurogroup, the gather of finance ministers from countries that use the euro. But Tsipras blamed unnamed negotiators among Greece’s European creditors and the IMF for “moving the goalposts” each time Greece was getting close to meeting approval conditions for the bailout. “We are not playing games here … that must stop,” he said, after talks in Athens with EU Council President Donald Tusk.

Greece has to agree on budget measures to get access to its loans. But the talks have dragged on for months, freezing the latest loan payout and hurting chances of a Greek economic recovery after years of recession and turmoil. Without the bailout payment, Greece would struggle to make a debt payment in July, raising anew the prospect of default. Tsipras’ left-led government is pushing for a comprehensive deal that would cover more than just spending cuts and harsh reforms by Greece, but also alleviate the country’s debt burden and ease its access later this year to international bond markets. “If the eurogroup is not in a position to (reach an agreement) on Friday, I have asked President Tusk to convene a eurozone summit to achieve an immediate agreement,” Tsipras said. “I don’t think that will be needed, because there will be a result on Friday, but these delays cannot continue.”

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Is it just me, or do we see similar surveys once a week these days? How can anyone maintain that the US economy is doing fine?

Half Of American Working Families Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (MW)

More than seven years after the Great Recession officially ended, there is yet more depressing research that at least half of Americans are vulnerable to financial disaster. Some 50% of people is woefully unprepared for a financial emergency, new research finds. Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) Americans have nothing set aside to cover an unexpected emergency, while nearly 1 in 3 (31%) Americans don’t have at least $500 set aside to cover an unexpected emergency expense, according to a survey released Tuesday by HomeServe USA, a home repair service. A separate survey released Monday by insurance company MetLife found that 49% of employees are “concerned, anxious or fearful about their current financial well-being.”

One explanation: Americans are crippled under the same amount of debt as they had during the recession. The New York Federal Reserve on Monday predicted that total household debt will reach its previous peak of $12.68 trillion in 2017. The last time it reached that level was in the third quarter of 2008, during the depths of the Great Recession. Indeed, it’s already close: Total household debt in the fourth quarter of 2016 was $12.58 trillion. Fewer borrowers have housing-related debt in 2017 and, instead, have taken on auto and student loans.

One illness can push people to the brink of financial ruin. Wanda Battle, a registered nurse for four decades, was recently hit with a $100,000 medical bill. She has visited her local emergency room on more than one occasion due to severe migraines and mini-strokes. Battle, who is based near Nashville, Tenn., managed to reduce her latest hospital bill to $32,000 based on her relatively low income, but still faces $650 monthly payments for a previous $22,000 medical bill. “There were times I couldn’t work,” she told MarketWatch. “I have not held a job that is continuous.”

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Glass Steagall. Interesting.

Trump Top Economic Adviser Cohn Backs Split Of Lending, Investment Banks (BBG)

In a private meeting with lawmakers, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said he supports a policy that could radically reshape Wall Street’s biggest firms by separating their consumer-lending businesses from their investment banks, said people with direct knowledge of the matter. Cohn, the ex-Goldman Sachs executive who is now advising President Donald Trump, said he generally favors banking going back to how it was when firms like Goldman focused on trading and underwriting securities, and companies such as Citigroup primarily issued loans, according to the people, who heard his comments. The remarks surprised some senators and congressional aides who attended the Wednesday meeting, as they didn’t expect a former top Wall Street executive to speak favorably of proposals that would force banks to dramatically rethink how they do business.

Yet Cohn’s comments echo what Trump and Republican lawmakers have previously said about wanting to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that kept bricks-and-mortar lending separate from investment banking for more than six decades. In the years after the law’s 1999 repeal, banks such as Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase gobbled up rivals and pushed into all sorts of new businesses, becoming one-stop-shopping financial behemoths. Many banking executives believed that the inclusion of former finance executives like Cohn in Trump’s White House would temper major changes such as a Glass-Steagall return. But his Wednesday remarks suggest he could be a wildcard should Congress get serious about reinstating the law. White House officials haven’t said what an updated version of Glass-Steagall might look like.

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They actually wrote a manual.

IMF Explains How To Subvert Resistance Against Elimination Of Cash (Häring)

The IMF has published a Working Paper on “de-cashing”. It gives advice to governments who want to abolish cash against the will of their citizenry. Move slowly, start with harmless seeming measures, is part of that advice. In “The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing”, IMF-Analyst Alexei Kireyev recommends in his conclusions:

“Although some countries most likely will de-cash in a few years, going completely cashless should be phased in steps. The de-cashing process could build on the initial and largely uncontested steps, such as the phasing out of large denomination bills, the placement of ceilings on cash transactions, and the reporting of cash moves across the borders. Further steps could include creating economic incentives to reduce the use of cash in transactions, simplifying the opening and use of transferrable deposits, and further computerizing the financial system. The private sector led de-cashing seems preferable to the public sector led decashing. The former seems almost entirely benign (e.g., more use of mobile phones to pay for coffee), but still needs policy adaptation.

The latter seems more questionable, and people may have valid objections to it. De-cashing of either kind leaves both individuals and states more vulnerable to disruptions, ranging from power outages to hacks to cyberwarfare. In any case, the tempting attempts to impose de-cashing by a decree should be avoided, given the popular personal attachment to cash. A targeted outreach program is needed to alleviate suspicions related to de-cashing; in particular, that by de-cashing the authorities are trying to control all aspects of peoples’ lives, including their use of money, or push personal savings into banks. The de-cashing process would acquire more traction if it were based on individual consumer choice and cost-benefits considerations.”

Note, that the author is not talking about unreasonable objections and imagined disadvantages: He does count it among the advantages of de-cashing in the very next paragraph that personal savings are pushed into banks and he also does count total control of all aspects of financial life under the pros, as in the last sentence of the last quote below.

“As de-cashing gives incentives to economies’ agents to convert their currency in bank deposits, the deposit base of the banking system will increase, which can help reduce the lending rates and expand credit.”

And finally the advice to do it together:

“Coordinated efforts on de-cashing could help enhance its positive effects and reduce potential costs. At least at the level of major countries and their currencies, the authorities could coordinate their de-cashing efforts. Such coordinated efforts are, in particular, important in the decisions to phase out large denomination bills for all major currencies, to use ceilings and other restrictions on cash transactions, and to introduce the reporting requirements for cash transactions or their taxation. For currency areas, a single decashing policy would be clearly preferable to a national one. Finally, consensus between the public and the private sector and outreach on the advantages and modalities of gradual decashing should be viewed as key preconditions for its success.”

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They’re all over the place.

Precursors to the ’08 Crisis are Repeating Now (Nomi Prins)

The biggest banks are still as dangerous as they were before the last crisis, even as they push for less regulation. The big six banks U.S. banks are JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. Despite their belly-aching about heinous Dodd-Frank Act regulations cramping their betting style, they have all done damn good recently. Since Trump was elected and started talking about deregulation, the big six bank stock values have collectively skyrocketed 33.5% (as of March 10th). Bank of America tops that rise with an eye-popping increase of 48.8% in three months. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley shares shot up 36.6%. Of course, most stocks have been moving up since the election. But keep in mind that the S&P 500 rose just 10.9% during that same period.

Beyond a few extra capital requirements (mostly in the form of a set of rules called Basel III coming from Europe), the need to establish a “living will” in case of another financial emergency, and some limitations on risky trading, not much has changed for these banks. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the big six banks’ total assets have increased by 21%. The big four by 25%. Yet, of the total Global Derivatives Notional amount of $544 trillion, the big six U.S. banks carry $168 trillion of it. Comparing that figure to their total assets, we get a leverage amount of 24 times. To put that in perspective, that’s only slightly less than the leverage their derivatives positions before the 2008 crisis. The biggest banks are still the ones most at risk, and most threatening to anyone with money in the stock market. Cracks have started popping up that make it clear to us that the next financial crisis is just around the corner.

[..] The Fed’s data shows bank lending to businesses has been strong, perhaps too strong. That’s why it’s just now starting to trail off. We’ve had an epic credit expansionary cycle on the back of cheap, central bank fabricated money and ultra-loose monetary policy — what I call “artisanal” money. But defaults and distressed credit activity is rising. Last year, corporates posted their fifth-highest yearly default volume. According to Forbes, “62 companies defaulted on $59.3 billion in debt — 57% higher than the $37.7 billion of defaults in 2015.” That’s an ominous trajectory.

Bank of America just revealed that its 30-90 day consumer credit delinquencies are rising significantly again. So are delinquencies at Wells Fargo. The bank card default rate is at a 42 month high. U.S. subprime auto loan losses are at their highest level since the ’08 crisis. Banks that had been offering more commercial real estate loans now say they will tighten standards. Fears are rising that a greater%age will become delinquent just as they did in the lead up to the last financial crises. A downturn is inevitable. It’s a matter of when, not if.

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Of course it shouldn’t.

Former Fed Advisor Says Central Bank Shouldn’t Comment On Equities (CNBC)

Federal Reserve officials commented on the stock market in March, as minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting revealed the central bank is working to reduce its $4.5 trillion in bonds on its balance sheet this year. Danielle DiMartino Booth, a former Dallas Fed advisor and president of Money Strong, said on CNBC’s Power Lunch on Monday, “It always makes me uncomfortable,” when the central bank comments on U.S. equities. In the summary of the March meeting, Fed members “commented that the recent increase in equity prices might in part reflect investors’ anticipation of a boost to earnings from a cut in corporate taxes or more expansionary fiscal policy, which might not materialize.

They also expressed concern that the low level of implied volatility in equity markets appeared inconsistent with the considerable uncertainty attending the outlook for such policy initiatives.” “I don’t think it’s necessarily the purview of central bankers to comment on this,” DiMartino Booth said. She said the Fed’s comments on the market shows “they are also verbally concerned about financial instability,” and may consider it when the Fed makes fiscal policy decisions, in addition to labor and inflation mandates. David Nelson, chief strategist at Belpointe Asset Management, agreed, “I don’t think the Fed should be commenting on stock prices.”

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“..getting from Point A ($4.5 trillion) to Point B ($2 trillion based on balance sheet contracting just over a tenth the size of the country’s GDP) will take at least five years.”

Is the Fed’s Balance Sheet Headed for the Crapper? (DiMartino Booth)

The good news, for those fearing having to enter monetary rehab, is that it’s going to take a mighty long time to shrink the balance sheet. The fine folks over at Goldman Sachs figure that getting from Point A ($4.5 trillion) to Point B ($2 trillion based on balance sheet contracting just over a tenth the size of the country’s GDP) will take at least five years. (An aside for you insomniacs out there: Have a look back at Mind the Cap, penned back on December 16, 2015, released hours before the Fed hiked rates for the first time in order to raise the cap on the Reverse Repo Facility (RRP) to $2 trillion. (Mind The Cap via DiMartinobooth.com) Come what may, you can consider Goldman’s estimate of the terminal value of a $2 trillion balance sheet and the size of the RRP to be anything but coincidental.)

In any event, things change. As per Goldman, by 2022, “…changes in Fed leadership, regulation, Treasury issuance policy, or macroeconomic conditions could alter both the near-term path and the intended terminal size of the balance sheet.” Indeed. It is entertaining to watch market pundits shift in their skivvies trying to assure the masses that a shrinking balance sheet will be welcomed by risky assets. It was downright comical to read that the Fed’s strategically allowing only long-dated Treasuries to expire and not be replaced would prevent the yield curve from inverting, thus staving off recession. Pardon the interruption, but domestic non-financial sector debt stood at about 140% of GDP in 1980. Today, it’s crested 250% of GDP and keeps rising.

Interest rate sensitivity, especially in commercial real estate, household finance and junk bonds is particularly acute. Oh, and by the way, monetary policy is a global phenomenon. At last check, the European periphery and emerging market corporate bond market were not in the best position to weather a rising rate environment. The best performance, though, was delivered by Chair Janet Yellen herself. In the spirit of giving credit its due, Business Insider’s Pedro da Costa highlighted this delightful nugget from testimony Yellen presented to Congress in February: “Waiting too long to remove accommodation would be unwise, potentially requiring the FOMC to eventually raise rates rapidly, which could risk disrupting the financial markets and pushing the economy into recession.” Isn’t the rapidly flattening yield curve communicating that ‘removing accommodation’ today is one and the same with ‘pushing the economy into recession’?

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Better do something, Justin. This is going to blow up in YOUR face.

Toronto House Price Bubble Goes Nuts (WS)

Residential property sales in Greater Toronto soared 17.7% year-over-year to 12,077 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). New listings jumped 15.2% to 17,052. Prices for all types of homes, based on the MLS Home Price Index Composite “Benchmark,” soared 28.6%. The “average” selling price soared 33.2%! That average selling price of C$916,567 is up from C$688,011 a year ago. Over the past five years, it has doubled! The heavenly manna was spread across the spectrum. For condos, the average price in Greater Toronto soared 33.1% to C$518,879; for townhouses it soared 32.9% to C$705,078; for semi-detached houses, 34.4% to C$858,202; and for detached houses, 33.4% to C$1,214,422. Even the house price bubble in Beijing cannot compete with this sort of miracle; new house prices there increased only 22% year-over-year in February.

And Sydney’s fabulous house price bubble just flat out pales compared to the spectacle transpiring in Toronto, with prices up only 19% in March. Vancouver has its own housing bubble to deal with. But there, the government of British Columbia has tried to tamp down on wild speculation with various measures, including a transfer tax aimed squarely at foreign non-resident investors, with “mixed” success. Now the great fear in Toronto’s real estate circles is that the government of Ontario might impose similarly cruel and unusual punishment on the participants in this spectacle. Some measures are on the table, with folks wondering how to stop the bubble from inflating further and causing even greater harm to the real economy when it deflates, as all bubbles eventually do.

They’re reluctant. It seems they want to see how BC’s measures are washing out in Vancouver. The central government too is trying to fine-tune some macroprudential measures, but they’ve had absolutely no effect on Toronto’s housing bubble. And the Bank of Canada, which has been fretting about the housing bubble for a while – always couched in its very careful terms – refuses to raise rates. Everyone is talking. No one dares to do anything real about Toronto’s house price bubble. In Toronto, according the real estate folks, it’s all based on fundamentals. It’s based on supply and demand and very rational calculated thinking, and there is no bubble in sight, lenders are just fine, and if Canadians are locked out of the housing market, so be it, it’s just a shortage of housing, really.

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We’re supposed to believe Australia never got the memo? Get real.

Interest-Only Loans ‘To End In Tears’ (Aus.)

Former National Australia Bank boss Don Argus has added to warnings about the overreliance of interest-only loans, declaring it is going to “lead to tears” as interest rates eventually move higher. After a widely expected decision by the Reserve Bank to leave its official cash rate unchanged at a record low 1.5% at its monthly board meeting yesterday, Mr Argus declared that borrowers had “forgotten” the cyclical nature of interest rates. “You can only hope that some of these dizzy values that you see people paying for houses now, you hope that they stand up on any correction, any economic correction”, Mr Argus told The Australian. Backing a tightening of so-called macroprudential controls on home lending announced by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority last week, Mr Argus, a former BHP Billiton chairman, said the capacity of borrowers to repay loans “was always a primary concern in housing loans of yesteryear”.

“If you progressed to just an interest-only environment, that’s only going to lead to tears.” However, in a speech given in Melbourne last night, RBA governor Philip Lowe took aim at banks and other lenders for making overly generous serviceability assessments. “Despite the focus on this area over recent times, too many loans are still made where the borrower has the skinniest of income buffers after interest payments”, Dr Lowe said. “In some cases, lenders are assuming that people can live more frugally than in practice they can, leaving little buffer if things go wrong. So APRA quite rightly has said lenders can expect a strong supervisory focus on loans with a very low net income surplus.” Dr Lowe also noted that the prevalence of interest-only lending was “unusual” globally.

“A reduced reliance on interest-only loans in Australia would be a positive development and would help improve our resilience. With interest rates so low, now is a good time for us to move in this direction,” he said. Almost 40% of residential mortgage lending in Australia is interest-only, where the borrower pays off the interest rather than the principal.

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“It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces existential risk if they stumble.”

China Is More Fragile than You Realize (DR)

China’s economy is not just about providing jobs, goods and services. It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces existential risk if they stumble. Given the systemic problems inherent in trying to run an economy in the absence of the accurate price signals only free markets provide (a problem for both Chinese socialism and the West’s corrupt crony markets), their challenges are worsening every day. Malinvestments the size of ghost cities are not lost on the world’s central bankers who fear a systemic collapse of China’s economy, nor on the brilliant investors who are betting on China’s collapse like they bet against the corrupt banking products in the U.S. housing bubble. Before the 2008 financial crisis, the Chinese debt-to-GDP ratio was 147%; now, it is at about 250%.

Quietly, the Chinese leadership has begun to lower growth expectations but even those numbers should be taken with skepticism. The methodology used to calculate their GDP figures is not publicly known but uses economic data that can be manipulated for sake of appearances. Declining growth impacts China’s financial market as well. Local banks are struggling with non-performing debt rapidly increasing. Non-bank financial institutions referred to as the “shadow banking system” are spreading, with little regulation or recognition of the risks. The government’s attempts to better regulate the system is stymied by local corruption where exaggerated assets and little documentation mask a wave of malinvestments. Like the appearance of no-doc “liar” loans in the U.S. in 2004-2006, the entire shadow banking system is signalling risk of systemic collapse.

Another source of malinvestment is the real estate market. Commercial real estate bubbles are breathtaking and residential real estate values have begun to fall. This seriously threatens social unrest as many Chinese families have put their life savings into real estate believing well intended but nonsensical government assurances of support to an ever increasing housing market. As is typical with most countries, the Chinese government tries to mask the ravages of inflation by adjusting their public measurement downwards. Doing so conceals the impact it has on households. But when values collapse wiping out the entire family savings for their old age, there will be a terrifying political backlash.

Yet another concern is that the 2008 Lehman bankruptcy marked a plateau in world trade. This has been particularly difficult for China as exports accounted for more than 40% of their GDP. With reduced global trade, China began to lose competitiveness in the market place. Inflation of the money supply in the Chinese economy required higher wages to offset rising prices. In turn, China tried to move into higher value exports by manufacturing more technologically advanced and complicated products. Unfortunately, in the transition, quality suffered and foreign markets began to look for alternatives to Chinese components.

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Good to see I’m not the only one who questions the narrative (see Any of this Sound Familiar?).

Syria Gas Attack: Assad’s Doing…Or False Flag? (Ron Paul)

Just days after the US Administration changed course on Syrian President Assad, saying he could stay, an alleged chemical weapon attack that killed dozens of civilians has been blamed on the Syrian government. Did Assad sign his own death warrant with such an attack…or does some other entity benefit?

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“Sort of like in a divorce case where lawyers are hired, investigators are hired just to find out what the other person is doing from morning until night and then you try to piece it together later on.”

Reports In Unmasking Controversy Were Detailed (Fox)

The intelligence reports at the center of the Susan Rice unmasking controversy were detailed, and almost resembled a private investigator’s file, according to a Republican congressman familiar with the documents. “This is information about their everyday lives,” Rep. Peter King of New York, a member of the House Intelligence committee said. “Sort of like in a divorce case where lawyers are hired, investigators are hired just to find out what the other person is doing from morning until night and then you try to piece it together later on.” On the House Intelligence Committee, only the Republican chairman, Devin Nunes of California, and the ranking Democrat Adam Schiff, also of California, have personally reviewed the intelligence reports. Some members were given broad outlines.

Nunes has consistently stated that the files caused him deep concern because the unmasking went beyond the former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and the information was not related to Moscow. Schiff said in a statement, “I cannot comment on the content of these materials or any other classified documents, and nothing should be inferred from the fact that I am treating classified materials the way they should be treated – by refusing to comment on them. Only the Administration has the power to declassify the information and make it available to the public.” Former National Security Adviser Rice is under scrutiny after allegations she sought to unmask the identities of Trump associates caught up in surveillance – such as phone calls between foreign intelligence targets. Rice denies ever having sought such information for political purposes and has defended her requests as routine.

[..] During his March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers said only 20 individuals within the agency are authorized to approve those requests. “They receive specific training, there are specific controls put in place in terms of our ability to disseminate information out of the databases associated with U.S. persons,” Rogers said at the time. What it appears to suggest is that the NSA itself agreed that the instances in which Rice requested unmasking warranted that action. FBI Director James Comey was less direct. “I don’t know for sure. As I sit here, surely more, given the nature of the FBI’s work,” he testified.

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What’s a 100 million more or less?

We Are Heading For The Warmest Climate In Half A Billion Years (Conv.)

Carbon dioxide concentrations are heading towards values not seen in the past 200m years. The sun has also been gradually getting stronger over time. Put together, these facts mean the climate may be heading towards warmth not seen in the past half a billion years. A lot has happened on Earth since 500,000,000 BC – continents, oceans and mountain ranges have come and gone, and complex life has evolved and moved from the oceans onto the land and into the air. Most of these changes occur on very long timescales of millions of years or more. However, over the past 150 years global temperatures have increased by about 1ºC, ice caps and glaciers have retreated, polar sea-ice has melted, and sea levels have risen.Some will point out that Earth’s climate has undergone similar changes before. So what’s the big deal?

Scientists can seek to understand past climates by looking at the evidence locked away in rocks, sediments and fossils. What this tells us is that yes, the climate has changed in the past, but the current speed of change is highly unusual. For instance, carbon dioxide hasn’t been added to the atmosphere as rapidly as today for at least the past 66m years. In terms of geological time, 1ºC of global warming isn’t particularly unusual. For much of its history the planet was significantly warmer than today, and in fact more often than not Earth was in what is termed a “greenhouse” climate state. During the last greenhouse state 50m years ago, global average temperatures were 10-15ºC warmer than today, the polar regions were ice-free, palm trees grew on the coast of Antarctica, and alligators and turtles wallowed in swamp-forests in what is now the frozen Canadian Arctic.

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Apr 052017
 
 April 5, 2017  Posted by at 8:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC Times Square seen from Broadway 1908

 

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon Warns ‘Something Is Wrong’ With the US (BBG)
US Housing Boom Is Anything But as Ownership Loses Appeal (A. Gary Shilling)
Young Americans Are Killing Marriage (BBG)
The Comex Is The World’s Most Corrupted Market (IRD)
The Real Russiagate (Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson)
Fed Leak Probe Dooms Lacker But Leaves Key Question: Who Leaked? (BBG)
I Tried To Ask Yellen About The Fed Leak (Da Costa)
Australia’s Household Debt Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Abc.au)
Australian Economy At Risk As Debt Bomb Grows (Aus.)
Chinese Brokers Are Muscling in on Asia’s Junk Bond Underwriters
Zombie Nation: In Japan, Zero Public Companies Went Bust in 2016 (BBG)
The World’s Best Economist (PCR)
New Zealand Post To Deliver KFC (AFP)

 

 

Actually, a lot is wrong. Including Dimon talking his book and people thinking he’s doing something else, like trying to help anyone other than himself.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon Warns ‘Something Is Wrong’ With the US (BBG)

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has two big pronouncements as the Trump administration starts reshaping the government: “The United States of America is truly an exceptional country,” and “it is clear that something is wrong.” Dimon, leader of world’s most valuable bank and a counselor to the new president, used his 45-page annual letter to shareholders on Tuesday to list ways America is stronger than ever – before jumping into a much longer list of self-inflicted problems that he said was “upsetting” to write. Here’s the start: Since the turn of the century, the U.S. has dumped trillions of dollars into wars, piled huge debt onto students, forced legions of foreigners to leave after getting advanced degrees, driven millions of Americans out of the workplace with felonies for sometimes minor offenses and hobbled the housing market with hastily crafted layers of rules.

Dimon, who sits on Donald Trump’s business forum aimed at boosting job growth, is renowned for his optimism and has been voicing support this year for parts of the president’s business agenda. In February, Dimon predicted the U.S. would have a bright economic future if the new administration carries out plans to overhaul taxes, rein in rules and boost infrastructure investment. In an interview last month, he credited Trump with boosting consumer and business confidence in growth, and reawakening “animal spirits.” But on Tuesday, reasons for concern kept coming. Labor market participation is low, Dimon wrote. Inner-city schools are failing poor kids. High schools and vocational schools aren’t providing skills to get decent jobs. Infrastructure planning and spending is so anemic that the U.S. hasn’t built a major airport in more than 20 years.

Corporate taxes are so onerous it’s driving capital and brains overseas. Regulation is excessive. “It is understandable why so many are angry at the leaders of America’s institutions, including businesses, schools and governments,” Dimon, 61, summarized. “This can understandably lead to disenchantment with trade, globalization and even our free enterprise system, which for so many people seems not to have worked.”

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I like Shilling. But this reeks of nonsense. It’s not about appeal, it’s about getting poorer.

US Housing Boom Is Anything But as Ownership Loses Appeal (A. Gary Shilling)

By many measures, the U.S. housing market seems in very good shape. The National Association of Realtors in Washington said last week that contracts to buy existing homes jumped 5.5% in February, the biggest increase since July 2010. Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey showed that Americans expect home prices to rise a robust 3.2% over the next year as its sentiment index reached a record high. So, are boom times ahead for housing? Not quite. To understand why, it helps to revisit recent history. The housing bubble of the early 2000s was driven by subprime mortgages and other loose-lending practices. The subsequent collapse left many potential new homeowners with inadequate credit scores, not enough money for a down payment and insufficient job security to buy a house.

They also saw, for the first time since the 1930s, that not only house prices fall nationwide, but nosedive by a third. Homeownership plunged and those who did form households moved into rental apartments instead of single-family houses. That drove rental vacancy rates down and starts of multi-family housing – about two-thirds of which are rentals – up to 396,000 units, more than the earlier norm of 300,000 starts at annual rates. But single-family housing starts – even with the rebound to an 872,000 annual rate from the bottom of about 400,000 – are still far below the pre-housing bubble average of more than 1 million. Despite the recovery in house prices, rents have risen at a much faster pace. As a share of median income, rents have jumped while mortgage costs have fallen. The latest data from the National Association of Realtors show its Housing Affordability Index was up 52% in the fourth quarter of 2016 from the early 2007 low.

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Yesterday we saw IMF head Lagarde saying the loss of productivity can be solved with education. But the younger have had a boatload more education than their parents.

Young Americans Are Killing Marriage (BBG)

There’s no shortage of theories as to how and why today’s young people differ from their parents. As marketing consultants never cease to point out, baby boomers and millennials appear to have starkly different attitudes about pretty much everything, from money and sports to breakfast and lunch. New research tries to ground those observations in solid data. The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University set out to compare 25- to 34-year-olds in 1980—baby boomers—with the same age group today. Researcher Lydia Anderson compared U.S. Census data from 1980 with the most recent American Community Survey data in 2015. The results reveal some stark differences in how young Americans are living today, compared with three or four decades ago.

In 1980, two-thirds of 25- to 34-year-olds were already married. One in eight had already been married and divorced. In 2015, just two in five millennials were married, and only 7% had been divorced. Baby boomers’ eagerness to get married meant they were far more likely than today’s young people to live on their own. Anderson looked at the share of each generation living independently, either as heads of their own household or in married couples. The chance that Americans in their late twenties and early thirties live with parents or grandparents has more than doubled. In 1980, just 9% of 25- to 34-year-olds were doing so. In 2015, 22% lived with parents or grandparents. Millennials are also less likely than boomers to be living with kids—and to be homeowners.

It’s easy to look at these figures and say millennials are lagging behind their boomer parents. However, even as young Americans delay marriage, kids, and homeownership, they’re ahead of their parents by one measure: education.

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Dazzling. “Historically, when the amount of paper exceeds the amount of underlying commodity that is available for delivery by more than 20-30%, the CFTC intervenes by investigating the possibility of market manipulation. But never with gold and silver.”

The Comex Is The World’s Most Corrupted Market (IRD)

If you were to poll the public about comparing the investment returns between gold, silver and stocks during the first quarter of 2017, it’s highly probable that the majority of the populace would respond that the S&P 500 outperformed the precious metals. That’s a result of the mainstream media’s unwillingness to report on the precious metals market other than to disparage it as an investment. In reality, among silver, gold, the Nasdaq 100 and the S&P 500, the S&P 500 had the lowest ROR in Q1. Silver led the pack at 14%, followed by tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 at 11.1%, gold at 8.6% and the S&P 500 at 4.8%. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Cramer. Imagine the performance gold and silver would have turned in if the Comex was prevented from creating paper gold and silver in amounts that exceeded the quantity of gold and silver sitting in the Comex vaults.

As an example, as of Friday the Comex is reporting 949k ozs of gold in the registered accounts of the Comex vaults and 9 million ozs of total gold. Yet, the open interest in paper gold contracts as of Friday totaled 41.7 million ozs. This is 44x more paper gold than the amount of physical that has been designated – “registered” – as available for delivery. It’s 4.6x more than the total amount of gold sitting on Comex vaults. With silver the situation is even more extreme. The Comex is reporting 29.5 million ozs of silver as registered and 190.2 million total ozs. Yet, the open interest in paper silver is a staggering 1.08 billion ozs. 1.08 billion ozs of silver is more silver than the world mines in a year. The paper silver open interest is 5x greater than the total amount of silver held in Comex vaults; it’s an astonishing 37x more than the amount of silver that is available to be delivered.

This degree of imbalance between the open interest in CME futures contracts in relation to the amount of the underlying physical commodity represented by those contracts never occurs in any other CME commodity – ever. Historically, when the amount of paper exceeds the amount of underlying commodity that is available for delivery by more than 20-30%, the CFTC intervenes by investigating the possibility of market manipulation. But never with gold and silver. The Comex is perhaps the most corrupted securities market in history. It is emblematic of the fraud and corruption that has engulfed the entire U.S. financial and political system. The U.S. Government has now issued $20 trillion in Treasury debt for which it has no intention of every redeeming. It’s issued over $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities (entitlements, pensions, etc) for which default is not a matter of “if” but of “when.”

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“..We are now in a position to see the real story behind “Russiagate.” It’s not about Russia, except incidentally…”

The Real Russiagate (Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson)

Wall Street Journal editorialist Kimberley A. Strassel poses the real question: Why hasn’t the Trump administration had the Secret Service arrest Comey, Brennan, Schiff, the DNC and Hillary for trying to overthrow the President of the United States? “Mr. Nunes has said he has seen proof that the Obama White House surveilled the incoming administration—on subjects that had nothing to do with Russia—and that it further unmasked (identified by name) transition officials. This goes far beyond a mere scandal. It’s a potential crime.” What we are watching is turning out to be traces of a plot against a government elected by the American people. Attempts by House national security committee Chairman Devin Nunes have been countered with demands by his potential victims to recuse himself so as to stop his exposé of how “Team Obama was spying broadly on the incoming administration.”

[..] We are now in a position to see the real story behind “Russiagate.” It’s not about Russia, except incidentally. The Obama regime abused the government’s surveillance powers and spied on Donald Trump and other Republicans in order to build a dossier for the DNC to leak to the press in an attempt to slander or compromise Trump and throw the election to Hillary. They’ve been caught, but we can now see that they took steps to protect themselves against this. They prepared a cover story. They pretend they were not spying on Trump, but on Russians – which only by fortuitous happenchance turned up incriminating smoke against Trump. This cover story was buttressed by the fake news story prepared by former MI6 freelancer Christopher Steele.

As Whitney reports, Steele “was hired as an opposition researcher last June to dig up derogatory information on Donald Trump.” Unvetted and unverified information paid for by so-called informants “somehow” found its way into U.S. intelligence agency reports. These reports were then leaked to Democrat-friendly media. This is where the crime lies. Obama regime and DNC were using these agencies for domestic political use, KGB style. The Obama/Clinton cover story is now falling to pieces. That explains the desperation in the attack by Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, on Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to stop the exposure. Russiagate is not a Trump/Putin collusion but a domestic spy job carried out by Democrats. Law requires Trump to arrest those responsible and to put them on trial for treason and conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States.

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They end the investigation without answering the question that started it?!

Fed Leak Probe Dooms Lacker But Leaves Key Question: Who Leaked? (BBG)

The Federal Reserve’s inspector general says it will be ending its investigation into the 2012 release of confidential information. Even after the scandal cut short the career of one top Fed official, the answer to the most important question remains a mystery. Who did the initial leaking? Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker resigned abruptly Tuesday as he announced his role in the unauthorized disclosure of information to Medley Global Advisors about policy options that the central bank was considering in 2012. His explanation suggested he was confirming facts the Medley analyst already knew. It was a sudden career stop for a Fed president who was frequently in opposition to the Fed board consensus on interest-rate policy, and the news will likely revive questions in Congress about the value of the central bank’s discretion and transparency.

“The story is not over today,” said Andrew Levin, a professor at Dartmouth College who was previously a special adviser at the Fed board and helped then-Vice Chair Janet Yellen develop the Fed’s policy on external communication. “There are a number of distinct details that suggest that Lacker wasn’t the main source of information.” Aaron Klein, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and the former chief economist on the Senate Banking Committee, said the Lacker statement “is not a full and complete accounting of what happened.” “The Fed, internally and its inspector general, would be wise to fully explore every aspect of what happened here because today’s actions and statements by Lacker raise more questions than they answer,” he said.

[..] Lacker’s carefully worded statement, distributed by his attorney, said he “crossed the line to confirming information that should have remained confidential.” The investigation into Lacker has concluded and no charges will be brought against him, the attorney said. He also said the Medley analyst “introduced into the conversation an important non-public detail” about one of the policy options under consideration. Lacker says he didn’t decline to comment “and the interview continued.” His statement doesn’t suggest that he tipped the Medley analyst initially. Indeed, the Fed board’s own investigation said “a few Federal Reserve personnel” had contact with the Medley analyst.

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Lacker the only leaker? Doesn’t quite look that way.

I Tried To Ask Yellen About The Fed Leak (Da Costa)

I once asked Janet Yellen a rather straightforward question that would echo for much longer than I expected. It was March 2015, and the Federal Reserve was under pressure from Congress to reveal details about an internal investigation into how key details of its interest rate policy deliberations had made their way into a report by a private sector firm. I was a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, and I asked the following at a press conference:

Let’s make something clear: Like any journalist, I love a good leak. But this was not your typical leak of important information to a journalist who then reported it to the public. This was the sharing of private, market-sensitive details with a private party – Medley Global Advisors – which then shared that information with its clients. The leak, it should be noted, happened all the way back in 2012 but it was still being discussed in 2015 because – despite the Fed’s internal investigation – nobody seemed to have gotten to the bottom of what had happened. And back in 2012, any read on what the Federal Reserve might do to suppress interest rates as the US economy continued to crawl out of the Great Recession, could lead to huge profits for the traders who bet on such things. These days, traders are thinking about the next rate hike.

Back then, interest rates were already at zero and the real insight gleaned from Medley’s report was how aggressively the Fed would work to keep them there by using its balance sheet. My question to Yellen had to do with basic public trust in the Fed. Why should the American people believe the central bank is working in its best interests if policymakers chat privately with movers and shakers on Wall Street? This was an alarming trend I had been reporting on since 2010, when I co-authored a report for Reuters entitled “Cozying up to big investors at Club Fed.” In it, my colleagues and I detailed other instances of market-moving information inappropriately being shared with investors, a trend we first observed when Fed officials speaking to bankers and hedge fund managers at conferences would suddenly go silent when a reporter walked by.

After the Yellen press conference, I took two weeks of paid leave for the birth of my daughter. When I returned, my editor at the paper told me I would no longer be attending Fed press conferences. No reason was given, and I left the job a few months later. Market bloggers speculated the Fed had “banned” me from the press conference. I have no reason to think that was the case because the central bank let me back in as soon as I changed news organizations. Fast-forward to April 4, 2017: Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker resigns abruptly after admitting he was a source of the leak. As soon as I saw the news, the whole press conference incident flashed before my eyes. But Lacker’s admission that the Medley leak originated with him doesn’t entirely settle the matter. We know Yellen also met with Medley herself. Why? What did she say to them? Former Fed economist and Treasury official Seth Carpenter was also under scrutiny on the issue. What were the results of the Fed’s own investigation? And of Congress’?

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Meanwhile in the gutter….

Australia’s Household Debt Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Abc.au)

Mr Russell told me there had been a big increase in debt-distressed Australians calling the [National Debt] helpline in recent months unable to pay their utilities bills. Naturally, he explained, rent and mortgage repayments take priority over the utilities bills because, in the order of survival priorities, you first need a roof over your head. Generally speaking, though, the National Debt helpline told me the rising cost of living is becoming crippling. Utilities bills, mortgage repayments and credit card debt, are all contributing to household financial stress. Last year over 150,000 calls were made to the National Debt Helpline. This year, monthly call volumes for the helpline are already 20% higher, compared to 2016. Based on current call volumes, the NDH predicts that there will be over 182,000 calls this year.

Martin North is the principal of financial research firm Digital Finance Analytics. He crunched the numbers and calculated that, in March, of the 3.1 million mortgaged households, around 22% were in “mild mortgage stress”. That’s up 1.5% on February, and is directly related to the even the smallest of interest rate increases by some of the big four banks. That means those households are managing to make their mortgage repayments, but only by cutting back on other expenditure, or putting more on credit cards, and generally hunkering down. Then there are those Australians under extreme levels of financial stress. Data from Digital Finance Analytics show 1% of households are in severe stress. That means they’re behind with their repayments, and are trying to dig their way out by refinancing, selling their property, or seeking help from services like the National Debt Helpline.

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Ha ha: “Our banks are resilient and they are soundly capitalised,” he said.”

Australian Economy At Risk As Debt Bomb Grows (Aus.)

The rampant debt-fuelled surge in the Sydney and Melbourne property markets will threaten the health of the national economy if it continues, Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has warned. However, Treasurer Scott Morrison has talked down drastic action on house prices after a “strong intervention” from Dr Lowe. The RBA is worried that housing debts are rising more than twice as fast as household incomes and that banks are lending to people who cannot afford to repay their debts. The concern has been that the longer the recent trends continued, the greater the risk to the future health of the Australian economy, Dr Lowe told a business dinner in Melbourne last night. “Stretched balance sheets make for more volatility when things turn down.” “For many people, the high debt levels and low wage growth are a sobering combination.”

The chairman of the government’s Financial System Inquiry, former Future Fund chairman David Murray, yesterday sounded a further alarm on the housing boom, saying a crisis on the scale of the 1890s great property collapse could not be ruled out. “What people should do is look at the 1890s, which was caused by a housing land boom,” he told The Australian. “To say it won’t happen and simply ignore it is wrong.” Half of the nation’s banks closed their doors following the 1890s crash. “Many people say a crisis has a low probability of occurrence, but the problem with that view is that whatever the probability, the severity can be very high if it occurs”, Mr Murray, who is also a former Commonwealth Bank chief executive, said. “It shouldn t be allowed to grow & it’s too big a risk to take.”

[..] House prices in Australia’s capital cities have risen 12.9% compared with this time last year, with a surge of 18.9% in Sydney and 15.9% in Melbourne, according to data released on Monday by property analytics firm CoreLogic. [..] Dr Lowe dismissed fears that the banks would be undermined by a housing downturn, saying the Council of Financial Regulators did not believe the boom was a threat to financial stability. “Our banks are resilient and they are soundly capitalised,” he said.

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In China, the shadow banks are taking over…

Chinese Brokers Are Muscling in on Asia’s Junk Bond Underwriters

China’s brokerages are out-muscling global investment banks to win more underwriting business in Asia’s junk bond market amid record offerings, as they increasingly help borrowers from the nation raise foreign currency debt. Haitong Securities topped the league table for high-yield notes denominated in dollars, euro and yen from companies in Asia excluding Japan in the first quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. China Merchants Securities moved up four places to fifth. While HSBC rose three places to second, Standard Chartered and UBS slid to eighth and 11th from first and second in the first quarter of 2016. Junk bonds offer more lucrative fees than high-grade bonds, giving an extra boost to financial institutions that can expand in the business.

As Chinese firms have flocked to the offshore high-yield market, mainland banks and brokerage firms have grabbed market share away from international peers. Issuance of junk notes in dollars, euro and yen from Asia excluding Japan swelled to a record $14.6 billion in the first quarter, with nearly 70% from Chinese companies. “It’s increasingly competitive and Chinese banks are effectively buying market share with their balance sheet,” said Veronique Lafon-Vinais at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Alexi Chan, global co-head of debt capital markets at HSBC, said that the significant rise in Asia high-yield bond sales reflected the “constructive market sentiment” and “positive outlook for China’s economy.”

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… and in Japan, the zombies take over.

Zombie Nation: In Japan, Zero Public Companies Went Bust in 2016 (BBG)

Corporate Japan achieved a rare feat in the fiscal year that ended last week. Not one of its almost 4,000 publicly-traded firms filed for bankruptcy protection. Yet that’s no reason to celebrate, according to analysts who see Japan’s easy credit conditions standing in the way of a much-needed, corporate restructuring to flush out failing companies and make room for new businesses. “It’s totally unhealthy,” says Martin Schulz, an economist at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo. “Japan’s business cycle isn’t working. When no old companies go out of business, no new ones can come in because there isn’t room. The old companies will always compete on price, simply because they can.”

The last time not a single Japanese corporate titan went belly up was a four-year stretch 26 years ago, according to a report published this week by research firm Teikoku Databank. Back then, though, an overheated Japanese economy averaged 5.5% growth per year and then hit a wall when stock and real estate asset bubbles burst. This time, ultra-low interest rates and government loan guarantees left over from the global financial crisis are keeping companies afloat. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touts fewer business failures as an economic success, but critics say too-easy credit is keeping “zombie” firms alive, worsening labor shortages, and excess competition is putting downward pressure on prices.

The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 coined the term “creative destruction” to describe the messy way that capitalism reinvents itself. Japan may be stuck in a rut because it refuses to take the economic pain needed for a revival. Yet it’s hardly the only country keeping companies on life support. A January study by the OECD blamed zombies – defined as firms with persistent difficulties paying interest on debt – for slowing productivity, and thus causing sluggish growth, in the developed world. In South Korea, where the shipping industry has been hit by slumping global trade, state-run banks last month agreed to lend Daewoo Shipbuilding $2.6 billion and swap debt for equity to prevent a default. It was the second time in less than two years that the troubled shipbuilder was bailed out.

In China, roughly 10% of the country’s publicly-traded companies are “among the walking dead,” being kept alive by continuous support from government and banks, according to research by He Fan, an economist at Beijing’s Renmin University. Banks keep lending, often because they don’t want to own up to their bad debts. Meanwhile, the government fears the unemployment that would result if so many troubled firms were left to wither away.

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“..the owners of property along the subway line experience a rise in property values. They owe their increased wealth and their increased incomes from the rental values of their properties to the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. If these gains were taxed away, the subway line could have been financed without taxpayers’ money.”

The World’s Best Economist (PCR)

If you want to learn real economics instead of neoliberal junk economics, read Michael Hudson’s books. What you will learn is that neoliberal economics is an apology for the rentier class and the large banks that have succeeded in financializing the economy, shifting consumer spending power from the purchase of goods and services that drive the real economy to the payment of interest and fees to banks. His latest book is J is for Junk Economics. It is written in the form of a dictionary, but the definitions give you the precise meaning of economic terms, the history of economic concepts, and describe the transformation of economics from classical economics, where the emphasis was on taxing incomes that are not the product of the production of goods and services, to neoliberal economics, which rests on the taxation of labor and production.

This is an important difference that is not easy to understand. Classical economists defined “unearned income” as “economic rent.” This is not the rent that you pay for your apartment. Economic rent is an income stream that has no counterpart in cost incurred by the receipient of the income stream. For example, when a public authority, say the city of Alexandria, Virginia, decides to connect Alexandria with Washington, D.C., and with itself, with a subway paid for with public money, the owners of property along the subway line experience a rise in property values. They owe their increased wealth and their increased incomes from the rental values of their properties to the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. If these gains were taxed away, the subway line could have been financed without taxpayers’ money.

It is these gains in value produced by the subway, or by a taxpayer-financed road across property, or by having beachfront property instead of property off the beach, or by having property on the sunny side of the street in a business area that are “economic rents.” Monopoly profits due to a unique positioning are also economic rents. Hudson adds to these rents the interest that governments pay to bondholders when governments can avoid the issuance of bonds by printing money instead of bonds. When governments allow private banks to create the money with which to purchase the government’s bonds, the governments create liabilities for taxpayers than are easily avoidable if, instead, government created the money themselves to finance their projects. The buildup of public debt is entirely unnecessary.

No less money is created by the banks that buy government bonds than would be created if the government printed money instead of bonds. The inability of neoliberal economics to differentiate income streams that are economic rents with no cost of production from produced output makes the National Income and Product Accounts, the main source of data on economic activity in the US, extremely misleading. The economy can be said to be growing because public debt-financed investment projects raise the rents along subway lines. “Free market” economists today are different from the classical free market economists. Classical economists, such as Adam Smith, understood a free market to be one in which taxation freed the economy from untaxed economic rents. In neoliberal economics, Hudson explains, “free market” means freedom for rent extraction free of government taxation and regulation. This is a huge difference.

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I got nothing. We’re doomed.

New Zealand Post To Deliver KFC (AFP)

New Zealand Post has announced its couriers will home-deliver KFC fast food, in a trial that could provide a recipe for success as letter volumes continue to dwindle. Under a pilot scheme that started this week in the North Island town of Tauranga, KFC customers can order online and have their food delivered by NZ Post drivers. KFC operator Restaurant Brands NZ said that while it knew how to produce food, it had no experience in logistics, making the postal service a natural fit. “NZ Post has an extensive delivery distribution network around New Zealand, and KFC is available in most towns nationwide,” chief executive Ian Letele said.

“With the support of NZ Post, we hope to service the home delivery needs of many more KFC customers throughout New Zealand.” New Zealand Post has struggled in the digital age as email and texts have replaced traditional “snail mail”. The state-owned service slashed 2,000 jobs, or 20% of its workforce in 2013, and two years later moved to three-day-a-week deliveries, down from six. It said in its last financial statement that the fall in letter deliveries meant it was losing up to NZ$30 million ($21 million) a year in revenue. However, it said parcel volumes were up due to rising online orders and NZ Post was concentrating on capturing more e-commerce business.

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